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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

$800 Million JPS Bond Package Aims To Expand Mental Health Services In Tarrant County

Joyce Marshall
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
John Peter Smith Hospital is the central public hospital for Tarrant County.

Tarrant County voters will soon decide whether to approve the largest bond package in the county’s history.

The $800 million bond proposal is for the county’s public hospital system, known as the John Peter Smith Health network.

The proposal is built on recommendations from a committee appointed by the county commissioners to take stock the network’s current needs and to anticipate future needs in a region that is growing fast, growing more diverse and growing older.

Early voting starts Oct. 22. Election Day is Nov. 6.

The top priority is to expand mental health services in the county, and the bond package would pay to triple the number of psychiatric beds from the current 96 to 298.  

“Right now, if you go into any major, urban county in the country, you will find that the vast majority of mental health patients that are being housed somewhere are being housed in the county jail, and that’s not the appropriate place for them,” Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said.

The bond proposal would pay for a range of new and expanded hospital buildings, including:

  • Four new regional medical centers throughout suburban Tarrant County,
  • A new ambulatory surgery center to reduce wait times for non-emergency operations,
  • A renovated cancer clinic,
  • And a new hospital tower at the main hospital in central Fort Worth.
Credit Christopher Connelly / KERA News
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley says the JPS Health Network needs to expand to support a fast-growing population.

It’s been 33 years since Tarrant County residents last approved bond money for JPS. Since then, the county has doubled in population to more than 2 million residents, and population projections suggest the county will grow by another million in the next couple decades, Whitley said.

“We’re to a point where we need to focus on trying to update technology and quit trying to shoehorn things in here, there and yon, and try to make things more efficient from a standpoint of operations and providing care for that additional population,” Whitley said.

The bond package would not increase the property tax rate. The hospital system is expected to add an estimated $300 million of operating revenue to pay for the expansion plan.

Three years ago, the county commissioners decided to pull a similar $800 million bond off the ballot before voters could weigh in on it. Now, with the recommendations from the county’s blue ribbon panel, Whitley says the county has a much stronger plan on the table.

One key addition in the current bond package, he said, is the addition of four regional health centers that will provide subsidized care closer to home for suburban residents, which are expected to divert patients away from seeking routine medical care in local emergency rooms and into less expensive primary care settings.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.