Why Healthcare Professionals Worry Uninsured Are Creating A Healthcare Crisis

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett
The number of uninsured people in Harris County was the topic of discussion among healthcare professionals at a conference at the University of Houston. The consensus among attendees was that everybody needs to work together to address the problem.

Harris County leads the nation's top 10 metropolitan areas with the highest number of uninsured at 30%. Speaking at a UH conference on urban healthcare, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says mental health is one big aspect of the public health dilemma in the county.

He says the largest mental health facility in the state is the Harris County Jail, a distinction that's got to change.

"About 25 years ago, the Legislature made the decision that we didn't need to be warehousing people with mental issues. So they basically de-institutionalized most mental health. Problem is, a lot of people ended up on the street, or in the care of families that can't afford to take care of them, and so they end up in the criminal justice system. We have to change that."

Faith Foreman
Faith Foreman with the city's Department of Health and Human Services

Obesity is another problem in Houston. And while the city is making strides in addressing the state of public health, Faith Foreman with the city's Department of Health and Human Services says there is that mindset that affects how we overcome it.

"Is the healthy choice the easy choice? Is it easier for me to drive through the drive-through and get a meal for my family on the dollar menu, than it is for me to get to a grocery store, walk there, take my kids there, do those kinds of things. So, it is a dynamic and multi-dimensional problem obesity, and it's going to take a dynamic, multi-disciplinary approach to reducing obesity in Houston."

David Lopez, President and CEO of the Harris County Hospital District says more kids are growing up without proper guidance.

"About three and a half years ago, we had to start a clinic for kids under the age of 10, because the doctors came to us and said 'We're finding a lot of kids with fatty tissues in their liver.' We never saw that until people were in their early 50s and mid 50s or early 60s, and now we have a lot of young kids under the age of 12 with that problem, lack of exercise. We're in danger right now, of the next generation of kids having shorter life spans than their parents."

David Lopez
David Lopez, President and CEO of the Harris County Hospital District

As the Houston area comes to grip with a rising tide of uninsured, Lopez says a lesson for the nation might be: Let the problem get out of hand and you won't just have a less healthy population, but an overwhelmed health care system.

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez


Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...