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State Launches $15.5 Million Partnership To Redesign Texas Psychiatric Hospitals

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. /KUT News
The Austin State Hospital.

From Texas Standard.

A 2014 report found that five of the 10 psychiatric hospitals in Texas 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.

The Texas Legislature approved $300 million last year to overhaul the hospitals, and the state Health and Human Services Commission announced yesterday that the first chunk of that money will be doled out to start the process.

State Sen. 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, chairman 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.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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