How Dare Dallas County’s Neighbors Bite the Hands That Treat Them at Parkland

It’s bad enough that Dallas County’s public hospital has become a lifeboat for so many uninsured people across North Texas.

We don’t need our richer neighbors up north in Collin County mocking or maligning us for doing the right thing — especially when we’re required to do so by law.

We need them to chip in.

Here’s the long and short of it: Without Parkland Memorial Hospital’s excellent trauma and emergency-room care, we’d have a bunch of people — especially those without insurance — suffering longer or dying sooner.

That’s not a polite thing to say, but it’s true.

Thanks to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act — a 31-year-old unfunded mandate from Uncle Sam — Parkland can’t turn away anyone coming through its emergency department even if they’re without insurance or the means to pay.

With 600,000 uninsured people in Dallas County alone, you can see how big of a potential burden that is on our hospital and our taxpayers.

But guess what? It doesn’t stop there.

We’re picking up the tab for out-of-county patients, too, as my colleague Naomi Martin recently reported.

Uninsured and indigent patients from across North Texas are benefiting from Parkland’s mandated largess — to the tune of $27.4 million last year alone.

This has been going on for decades.

And you know which out-of-county patients benefit the most from Parkland’s expert care and generosity? That would be Collin, the seventh most populous county in the state and one of the wealthiest based on per capita income.

Still, patients streaming in from Collin County last year cost the hospital $6 million. If you’re hoping we’ll get any of that money back, don’t hold your breath.

That’s a huge and bitter pill for Dallas County taxpayers to swallow. The one-sided deal strongly suggests that Collin and other counties aren’t able — or willing — to take care of their own.

Except — hold on — that is not the way Collin County Judge Keith Self spins it. Instead, he blames Parkland’s “liberal policies” for catching nearly 6,000 Collin County residents in its health care safety net last year.

“These are not indigent citizens,” Self said. “These are people who don’t pay their bill, they’re uninsured.”

Collin County Judge Keith Self (center) blames Parkland Memorial Hospital’s “liberal policies” for serving nearly 6,000 of his county’s residents last year. “These are not indigent citizens,” Self says.

In other words, the judge is saying his county is home to a bunch of deadbeats. Perhaps Dallas should figure out a way to slip that into its corporate recruiting brochures.

Anyway, in a tone reminiscent of the partisan bickering coming out of Austin and Washington — and we see where that’s gotten us — Self shamelessly throws salt on the wound by blaming Parkland’s CEO, Dr. Fred Cerise, for the hospital’s dilemma.

“If he’s got very liberal policies — I’m not going to comment on Parkland hospital policies that give more generous health care,” he said.

This is what happens when you’re a blue county in a red state: No do-good deed goes unpunished.

What the Republican judge fails to acknowledge, however, is that this is far more complicated an issue than Parkland being too generous with taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

About half of Collin County’s 110,921 uninsured residents are eligible for indigent care. And it’s true, as Self mentions, that Collin isn’t the stingiest of counties in Texas when it comes to taking care of the indigent.

But the county simply doesn’t have a big enough safety net. And its health providers still can turn away people who don’t qualify for the network of services it offers.

That’s why so many out-of-county patients end up in emergency rooms — mostly Parkland, which happens to boast some of the best trauma care in the nation.

To be fair, not everyone in Collin County shares the judge’s harsh, if not downright ungrateful, judgment.

Some, like Rick Crocker, head of a homeless shelter in McKinney, understands the critical role that Parkland plays in saving lives. And he agrees that that Parkland “can’t bear the entire burden of this” alone.

It’s a “shared responsibility,” he said.

It sure is. And what we need is a regional partnership coupled with a cost-sharing strategy that takes into account the special role that Parkland plays in North Texas.

More pointedly, we need our suburban neighbors to step up to the plate. And, for once, they need to leave partisan politics out of the mix.

Last I checked, Parkland’s ER doctors don’t ask any of its patients whether they’re “liberal” or “conservative” before treating them.

They simply want to know where it hurts.

For Dallas County taxpayers, we know the answer: That would be the pocketbook, followed closely by the condescending rebukes from suburban politicians who should know better.

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