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Texas Funds Renovations for Crumbling Mental Health Hospitals

The Austin State Hospital was opened in 1857 as the Texas State Lunatic Asylum. It will be replaced with a new $235 million facility in 2019. (THHSC)
The Austin State Hospital was opened in 1857 as the Texas State Lunatic Asylum. It will be replaced with a new $235 million facility in 2019. (THHSC)
January 10, 2018

AUSTIN, Texas – After decades of neglect, Texas has begun a two-year, $300 million project to rebuild and renovate the state's antiquated psychiatric hospital system.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature appropriated the funding to begin bringing the state's network of 10 facilities up to current standards.

Most of the facilities have gone for decades without major improvements, and at least one hospital dates to the 1850s.

Greg Hansch, public policy director of the Texas chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, says the state-run facilities have not been able to keep up with the demand for years.

"This is a system that has not received the attention that it's needed over the years, and now we're seeing increasing awareness around what the issues are and how that impacts access to care and quality of care," he states.

Hansch says even as the demand for services has grown, the state has allowed its facilities to fall into disrepair, making fewer beds available.

Prior to the state's plan for improvements, the advocacy group Mental Health America ranked Texas among the bottom third of the 50 states for the quality of its mental health care and in the bottom five for access to that care.

The state Health and Human Services Commission released funds this week to begin renovations at hospitals in Austin, Kerrville, San Antonio and Rusk, and build a new facility in Houston.

Hansch says the program will help solve a major problem in the state's jails.

"This investment should absolutely reduce the criminalization of mental illness in that particular way,” he stresses. “This provides law enforcement with a place to take people so that those individuals can access treatment that is not jail."

Hansch says while it is a good start, the $300 million represent only a down payment on what will be needed to complete the job.

"There's going to be a significant need to continue to infuse resources into the system so that there is money available to operate these facilities with a high degree of quality care," he states.

The combined capacity of the state's mental hospital system is about 1,800 beds. Officials say that should increase by 400 or more when upgrades are complete in late 2019.



Mark Richardson, Public News Service - TX