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State, medical school lay out plans for new Austin State Hospital

Thursday, January 31, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Officials from the state and from Dell Medical School at the University of Texas have put together their plans for a new Austin State Hospital that will be constructed on the existing 95-acre campus in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

State money directed to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission will pay for the $300 million hospital, which will have 240 beds and is expected to be completed by 2023. The facility, which will continue to serve a multi-county service area and treat patients experiencing mental health issues, is the first phase of a longer-term plan to bring more health care resources to the campus.

The plan was announced Monday, and state legislators are expected to approve funding for the new hospital this session. The existing Austin State Hospital, which is recognized as a historic building, was identified in 2014 as being in such poor condition that it was past the point of rehabilitation. It is one of five state hospitals that needs to be replaced.

The state provided just over $15 million two years ago for planning for the first phase of the hospital campus.

With Dell Medical School as a partner, state and area health care stakeholders hope the new Austin State Hospital can advance new models of care for mental illness and brain-related conditions.

“I’ve been talking a lot over the past few years about the opportunity for Austin to become a leader in brain health just as MD Anderson exemplifies cutting-edge cancer care or how the Cleveland Clinic pioneers world-class cardiac care,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, of Austin. “Through the Austin State Hospital Brain Health System Redesign, we’re seizing that opportunity and are on the cusp of something incredibly exciting that is so much bigger than just a new building.”

While the new hospital was not an explicit component of Watson’s “10 Goals in 10 Years” plan centered around health care priorities for Central Texas, it answers the need he identified for improved psychiatric care facilities.

Karen Ranus, executive director of the Austin chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the new hospital will be the centerpiece of a campus that can eventually play a large role in determining how mental health services are provided in Texas.

“There’s always more to be done, and this first round is about recommendations for what we want for this very first phase, which is just a 240-bed hospital plus a residential care unit for folks who need longer-term care with fewer restrictions,” she said. “There are questions about the larger system that do need to be addressed but this hospital and the funding for it is supposed to be just the beginning and the hope is then what we do with the rest of the land.”

The hospital’s location in Hyde Park has made it something of a wish-list spot for local developers in recent years. Ranus said there was never much consideration given to the idea of selling the 95 acres and using the funds to buy land outside of Central Austin to build the hospital and related facilities, most of which are expected to be funded through public-private partnerships.

There is also some hope that better facilities and programs for mental health care can help keep those suffering from mental illness from joining the city’s growing homeless population.

“If we can improve patient throughput through the building and improve the system, that’s one way to help people get into care and ideally intercept their illness before they slip into homelessness,” said Stephen Strakowski, associate vice president for mental health at Dell Medical School.

“Homelessness is a multi-factorial, very complicated problem and we are trying to make a move to more residential care and then possibly halfway houses and other options with partners like Integral Care.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.

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