Earley Says it’s Time to Bring Patients Back Into the Debate

At the January meeting, JPS Health Network President and CEO Robert Earley said Tarrant County’s public hospital is operating at 97 percent capacity, needs to grow because of expected increases in patient visits, and hasn’t had a bond package before the public since 1998.

Earley told the WPF audience that the economic boom in Fort Worth may be good news for city leaders, but it means more patients, more emergency room visits and more demand for mental health services for his health care system.

“The health care discussion needs to be less about votes and more about patient care,” said Earley. “If we focused on patients’ needs, the answers would be clearer.”

Throughout its history, JPS Health System has served the underserved. JPS was the only hospital to accept polio patients, the only hospital in Tarrant County to treat HIV victims, and today serves a population that is not sought after by other hospitals. In 2018, its patient population continues to grow along with the area.

JPS has established a Future Fund to prepare for expansion and conducted a six-year study on needs. Earley is also pursuing partnerships with UT-Southwestern and Texas Health Resources to maximize available resources. “We need a 360 program that addresses jobs, personal needs, education, mental health to effectively treat the patients we see,”

he said.

With anticipated patient visits expected to rise exponentially in the next few years, Earley tackled repeat emergency room visits by homeless patients by sending nursing teams out to illegal camps to do blood pressure checks and preventive care. “We have reduced ER visits by homeless patients through this effort,” he added.

Earley sees need for an $80 million expansion for mental health treatment. “Patients with mental illness who live on the street end up in jail over and over. Treating the underlying illness will save the county money by keeping the patient out of the ER.”

He also sees a need for a geriatric unit to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia. JPS has also established 19 school-based clinics to treat students suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and other adolescent mental illness.

“These are needs, not headlines. For example, one of our largest populations is patients with Stage 4 cancer. Most were not treated early and came to us when the cancer was advanced. Early diagnosis and treatment would reduce the size of this population,” he said.

Earley, who was himself a patient in the JPS trauma center when he suffered a brain injury, said he has three rules for employees who work at JPS:

*”You own it. Every employee has ownership in our hospital system.”

*Seek joy. “Smile one time a day. If you can’t smile, don’t be here.”

*”Don’t be a jerk.” Employees must respect each other.

“Remember that patients come to us scared, hurt and confused. Speak to them, shake their hands and touch them,” Earley said. “They didn’t start out the day planning to be here.”

Last year JPS was named one of the best places to work in health care by Modern Healthcare magazine. JPS was one of two public hospitals on the annual list of 150.

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