A state report back in 2014 found that five of the 10 Texas psychiatric hospitals were in such disrepair that they needed to be replaced. Lawmakers and state health officials have since been debating what to do about the aging facilities. One part of that debate has included perhaps relocating the hospital in Austin – the state’s oldest psychiatric hospital – and selling the valuable land.
But last year the Texas Legislature approved $300 million to overhaul the state’s psychiatric hospitals and yesterday the Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced the first chunk of that money will be doled out to start the process.
State Senator Kirk Watson says this is just the first step.
“This $15.5 million isn’t going to build any buildings,” he says. “It will be planning for how it is that you treat mental health issues all across the continuum. And what I mean by that is, for example, if tomorrow I were to have a heart attack, I might end up in the intensive care unit. But hopefully after a few days I wouldn’t need intensive care anymore, so there would be another type of care that would be available.”
Watson says mental health is similar to heart health, but the same range of services is not available for mental health.
“So what we want to be able to provide on this site, at this brain health center, is the entire continuum of services,” he says. “And part of this planning money will go to figuring out how best to do that sort of planning.”
The Austin facility has had its share of struggles over the years, besides the aging building – like staff turnovers, staff shortages, and violations of policies on restraining patients. Now, with this $15.5 million planning overhaul, the campus will be relaunched as a center for brain health.
Dr. Stephen Strakowski, chair of the Dell Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, is the head of the state’s hospital redesign effort. Watson says that partnering with the medical school is an important part of the strategy.
“In attracting and retaining talented staff, it will be easier and probably better if what you’re doing is you’re doing it with an affiliation with a world-class medical school that’s located on the campus of a world-class university,” Watson says.
Written by Jen Rice.