Home to an estimated 4.4 million people, there’s not too much that is small about Harris County, Texas. It is the 3rd-largest county in the United States of America, and of course is the home for most of the city of Houston.
As a rapidly-growing county, no one should be surprised that there is also a rapid need for expansion of health services. So many people may be shocked to hear that one of the country’s largest public health systems is actually laying people off this week, with more lay-offs possible in the near future. And as Kyrie O’Connor of the Houston Chronicle notes, these lay-offs have little to do with falling oil prices…
Facing an expected budget shortfall of $71.8 million, Harris Health System is in the midst of laying off about 113 employees, an agency spokesman confirmed Tuesday. A number of vacant positions where employees have already left won’t be filled, bringing the total to 261.
Harris Health, formerly known as the Harris County Hospital district, is the county’s primary public health service agency serving low-income people. It employs 8,237 workers.
Harris Health officials have blamed the deficit on several factors, chief among them the state’s decision not to opt for expanded Medicaid from the federal government. They also cite decreased payments to the agency from other federal programs. Expanded Medicaid would have offset those cuts. Harris Health says it has expanded its services in recent years in response to growing demand.
“We are this community’s safety net health system. Nobody provides healthcare to those most in need better than Harris Health,” Masi said. “We will continue to deliver high-quality health services as efficiently as possible with the resources we have available.”
The board is scheduled to meet Thursday to consider proposals to offset the $71.8 shortfall and possibly to tentatively adopt a budget. At last week’s meeting, the members discussed the possibility of approving a budget with a $11.8 million shortfall, to preserve as many of the threatened patient services as possible.
Harris Health officials state that this round of lay-offs “will not result in a cut in services”, which is hard to believe at this point. And even if that is the case, what happens when the next round of cuts come through??
These people do not have to lose their jobs at all, as legislators in Austin have it in their power to accept the Medicaid Expansion, or come up with a unique Texas solution right now. But thanks to their selfishness, real Texans are paying real consequences. As smart Republican leaders like Harris County Judge Ed Emmett already know, it is anything BUT Conservative to be letting go of health professionals in a place growing as rapidly as Harris County. It’s time to drop the political games around the ACA and do what’s best for Texas.
These may be the first round of area layoffs due to the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, but they likely will not be the last. If you ever cared about this issue enough to write your lawmakers in Austin, now is the time to do it.