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Hyde Park residents vote to keep state hospital, but Texas lawmakers will decide its fate

Thursday, July 14, 2016 by Syeda Hasan

For more than a century, the Austin State Hospital has been a fixture in Hyde Park. While the facility near Guadalupe and 41st streets is primarily a psychiatric hospital, its winding trails and tree-lined campus are a popular recreational space for neighbors. Now, state leaders are considering selling the property and relocating the hospital — a move that has some residents concerned.

Completed in 1861, the Austin State Hospital was the first Texas facility established to care for the mentally ill. It represented a shift in attitudes toward treating mental illness, with the asylum offering patients a healing environment free from the stress of everyday life. Today, it admits about 4,000 patients a year, serving 38 counties across Central Texas.

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan highlights the importance of the hospital to preserving neighborhood character, and many residents don’t want to see it go. Speaking at a Hyde Park Neighborhood Association meeting Monday, resident Susan Marshall argued that the hospital should stay because its current location brings needed services to Central Austin.

“… Alcohol treatment, referrals, job referrals, all kinds of things that you just don’t hear about in the community,” she said.

Still, others say that new development on the expansive property could be beneficial and bring much-needed housing to the area.

In the end, the neighborhood association voted overwhelmingly to preserve historic trees and structures that make up the hospital campus, regardless of whether it gets sold. Members also asked for the restoration of the hospital’s historic administration building, which was built in 1857 and houses medical artifacts. They want any future development on the property to be restricted to public use and require the input of local stakeholders.

Still, the neighborhood association’s vote is nothing more than a local opinion. Ultimately, the future of the facility will be decided by the Texas Legislature. Lawmakers passed a bill in the 84th Legislative session that requires the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to conduct a study determining the feasibility, costs and benefits of transferring the Austin State Hospital to a new location. The study must consider property and facility costs, ease of public access by main roads, public transportation and capacity to accommodate the operation of the hospital.

The Health and Human Services Commission heard public comment on the potential relocation during a series of hearings in June. Commissioners plan to issue a report on the results of their study to state lawmakers by September.

Photo by Beth Wilson made available through a Creative Commons license.

This story is the result of a partnership between the Austin Monitor and KUT News.

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