Call to Action! JPS requires citizen input for proposed debt package.
The John Peter Smith public hospital district, more commonly known as JPS, proposed an $809,000,000 bond package last year without much citizen input. Overwhelmingly, the majority of the money was going to be spent only on the downtown facility in Fort Worth, with more than half being spent on a new inpatient tower. Meanwhile, there was minimal benefit for the rest of the taxpayers in other parts of the county who would also bear the cost of this nearly billion-dollar project. However, the bond never made to the November ballot this year. An active citizenry of concerned taxpayers raised questions and concerns about the direction and hidden costs of the bond, prompting the Commissioner’s Court to put it on hold. It will now face a “Blue Ribbon Commission,” in an attempt to calm those opposing the bond.
At the core of this debate is a choice we must face as taxpayers.
Detractors of the bond claim this package represents a philosophical change in the mission of JPS. A change from providing indigent care to that of becoming the “provider of choice”, to quote JPS CEO Robert Early. Do we want our public hospital competing with privately run providers of care, actively competing against them with their own tax dollars and potentially putting those jobs at risk? Or, should JPS’s focus be on taking care of those who are unable to pay and the indigent who simply cannot care for themselves? Let’s ask ourselves, what would be the wiser investment for the taxpayers of Tarrant County to make?
Preventative Care Instead of Emergency Room Care
If our focus is going to be indigent care and those unable to pay, it makes a lot more sense to focus on local clinics and prevention in those communities, rather than meeting them in the emergency room. It’s a lot cheaper to give someone an injection of insulin, than amputate a foot because the early stages of diabetes weren’t detected. Taxpayers then foot the bill for the difference. Insurance premiums rise to compensate for those who can’t pay and taxes increase to cover the uninsured.
These were among the chief concerns raised by Arlington & Grand Prairie residents at a town hall held by District County Commissioner, Andy Nguyen. Citizens & activists grilled JPS staff and JPS executive director Robert Early on how they arrived at their projections. Some, such as Ross Kecseg noted the numbers simply didn’t add up.
Kecseg reported that the debt proposal was riddled with far-fetched financial forecasts and dubious assumptions. He showed that JPS officials were not being up front with the true costs of the project.
“FRG’s* “baseline” scenario for JPS represents the current financial trajectory if nothing is renovated, built, or added to the facility. It has 4% in unexplained operational efficiency gains imbedded in it, on top of the 3% they assume in their best-case scenario. In other words, FRG assumes JPS will find savings unrelated to the proposed construction plan, without explaining how or why. According to sources inside the County Court, when JPS approved plans for a new patient pavilion in 2008, similar efficiencies of 2-3% were promised that never materialized.”
The County Commissioner’s Court tried to rush this proposal onto the November ballot before citizens could see the full picture. But once taxpayers did, JPS officials quickly retreated. It was an active citizenry taking direct action that held back the bond. The fight is not over for taxpayers, however. The Court’s rubber-stamp commission will soon give the bond new life.
The citizens of Tarrant County have two clear options. Do we focus our attention and resources on reducing negative externalities such as high-cost emergency room care both our private and public institutions face, or try to compete with the private market, needlessly putting hard working people’s jobs at risk and wasting taxpayer dollars?
The best way to impact this process is to attend and speak up at this week’s forums.
Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 Arlington Subcourthouse, 700 E. Abram St. Arlington, TX 76010
Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016 Lake Worth Activity Center, 7005 Charbonneau Road Lake Worth, TX 76054
Tuesday, January 10, 2017 Northeast Courthouse, 645 Grapevine Highway Hurst, TX 76054
*(FRG is a Consulting firm hired to do the projections)