As the COVID-19 pandemic slows down and hopefully comes to a conclusion, plans for long-awaited expansion of and improvements to JPS Health Network facilities are accelerating.
Tarrant County Commissioners in September recommended the hiring of a partnership of Broaddus & Associates and LeVis Consulting Group to manage the development project after considering proposals from four different groups over a period of two weeks.
In November 2018, a bond referendum to support the construction of new JPS Health Network facilities was approved by voters with 82 percent of people casting ballots in favor of the measure. Taxpayers authorized up to $800 million to be spent, but county and health network leaders said they expect to keep the amount they borrow as low as possible.
Over the next year, county commissioners started to discuss with JPS leaders what new health network facilities might look like. But those plans came to a stop in the spring of 2020 as COVID-19 demanded the attention of hospital and government leaders.
Originally on the wish list were a new behavioral and mental health hospital, four regional medical centers, an outpatient surgery center, expanded cancer care facilities and other space. A new Oncology and Infusion Center nearly twice the size of the building it replaced was opened in May 2019 at 1450 8th Avenue in Fort Worth, greatly increasing the number of cancer patients who can be treated. JPS is the primary provider of behavioral health services in Tarrant County, so adding resources in that area is likely to remain a priority. But COVID-19 may change other plans in ways that couldn’t have previously been anticipated.
Long on the horizon of medical care, the pandemic forced the early adoption of telemedicine services, allowing doctors and nurses to speak with patients, examine wounds, follow up on procedures and accomplish many other tasks remotely. Caregivers said patients who might otherwise have been skeptical about the idea of having a doctor visit over their phone or computer were attracted by the idea of being able to stay safe in their own home in the middle of a health crisis. That allowed patients to realize the convenience and effectiveness of virtual care. That’s something doctors believe they’ll want to keep long after COVID-19 is gone, so it could alter priorities in future planning.
Regardless of how new facilities will take shape, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley has pledged to be responsible to the community both by making sure residents have access to the health care services they need – and by being financially responsible in providing that care.
“We continue to build our health infrastructure in an efficient and conservative manner,” Whitley told the Fort Worth Star Telegram at the time the bond referendum was passed. “Our pledge to the voters is that we will do this with no tax rate increase.”
The site in Fort Worth where the main JPS campus stands today has served Tarrant County residents’ medical needs since 1938 when a 166-bed public hospital was built there. Over the years, the façade of that original building nearly completely disappeared as it was expanded upon repeatedly. In the early 1970s, the tallest building on the campus, the patient tower was completed. The most recent major addition to the health network’s main campus was the construction of the five-story Patient Care Pavilion opposite Main Street from the main tower. It was completed in 2008.
The package passed in 2018 represented the first time county and health network leaders asked taxpayers to issue bonds to improve JPS facilities since 1985.