HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — With Harris County unable to set a new budget and tax rate, county departments could see major impacts.
From Harris Health Systems to flood control, some departments are having to scale back or cut services offered to residents.
Many county leaders are concerned about the trickledown effect of not being able to operate under a new tax rate and budget.
Republican commissioners, however, are celebrating stopping the Democrats on Commissioners Court from putting in place their new budget.
The impact will be widespread, according to county leaders.
“It is vital that Harris Health remain a vibrant, funded entity and health care provider for this county,” said Louis Smith, the chief operating officer for Harris Health.
According to Harris Health, the no new revenue outcome of Tuesday’s meeting means Harris Health System will be operating at a $45 million deficit in fiscal year 2023.
“That exponentially increases as we go forward in time,” Smith said.
Practically, that means thousands of less patients being seen, a decrease in cancer screenings and an impact on services offered for children, including those sexually abused, according to Harris Health.
“I do tell you that the impact is real, we are adjusting operations today,” Smith said.
The adjustment is to “break-even” in their operating budget despite the deficit the department says.
Harris Health listed the following adjustments that are being made:
•Labor Management: $11.6 million deficit reduction – Harris Health is working across the organization to manage and minimize contract labor expense in an effort to achieve a 5-10% reduction in utilization (This includes temporary agency-provided clinical staff used to fill high needs areas). Additional efforts are underway to evaluate staffing and bring it in alignment with benchmark targets where possible.
•Strategic Initiatives: $24.7 million deficit reduction – Strategic initiatives planned for fiscal year 2023 have been evaluated for elimination, reduction or delay in order to alleviate incremental operating expense. This includes initiatives such as expansion of gastrointestinal services (screening colonoscopies, etc.) at the Quentin Mease facility; expansion of Same Day Clinic/Urgent Care hours and EC telemedicine; expansion of specialty care services in the community; expansion of Population Health initiatives focused on chronic disease management and enhanced community partnerships. Harris Health continues to believe in the importance and long-term value of these delayed initiatives, and will continue to evaluate these programs for future implementation as funding permits.
•Purchased Clinical Services/Supplies: $8.5 million deficit reduction – Harris Health is currently evaluating purchased clinical services for reduction or elimination in order to close any gap remaining after implementation of the strategies identified above.
“We are a vital element, a critical element of how health care is delivered within Harris County,” Smith said.
Other services impacted include law enforcement— such as Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s office. He said failing to adopt a budget is “a big blow to our ability to deliver crime fighting services.”
He also said the department “must consider drastic cost-cutting measures, the most severe of which could mean canceling the upcoming basic peace officers cadet course” of 60 possible law enforcement officers.
Additionally, a planned 8% raise for law enforcement will not happen. Instead, there will be a 4% raise.
New flood control projects are now on hold or being scaled back.