AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hundreds of patients from across 75 Texas counties have received mental health care from a hospital that is old, overcrowded and lacking proper maintenance.
As such, the Texas legislature has identified the Austin State Hospital as one of its top healthcare priorities.
KXAN examined the plans in place to transform the hospital and provide the help patients expect from it.
“Suffering in silence”
“A lot of times we suffer in silence,” said Max Power, the founder of Lost Inside, an organization which helps people share their mental health experiences with others.
42-year-old Power has battled depression and bipolar disorder all of his life.
“I was told that we weren’t allowed to have problems, only the rich can afford help,” Power said.
He said the state hasn’t been there to address his most pressing needs, and there are others living in Texas that feel the same way.
“Texas had allowed its brain health system to deteriorate pretty dramatically,” said Senator Kirk Watson, who has championed efforts in renovating, rebuilding and re-imagining the Austin State Hospital for several years.
Dr. Stephen Strakowsi has been assigned to identify the flaws in Texas’ broken mental health care system and to fix it locally.
“A big part of the barriers is getting access to care and providing facilities for people where they can get to them easier, more quickly, that are modern and provide the best care,” said Dr. Strakowski, the Associate Vice President for Regional Mental Health and chair of the Austin State Hospital Planning Committee.
Financing in phases
With the help of Senator Watson, the Texas legislature secured $165 million in 2019 to completely renovate and redesign the Austin State Hospital. Watson said the plan has always been to roll out the renovations in phases, what he called a “three-biennia program.”
During the 2017 legislative session, money was set aside to begin planning an ASH redesign. In 2019, the Texas legislature allocated $445 million statewide, with $165 million set aside for fall demolition and groundbreaking in Austin.
Finally, approximately $120 million will need to be secured to finish ASH construction and allow patients to begin receiving care by 2023.
“We’ve done some really good work, but going forward, we need more and we need better in Central Texas,” Senator Watson said. “We’ve seized that opportunity and we will bring about greater brain health in Central Texas.”
Senator Watson also helped pass Senate Bill 2111 which lays out a plan to transfer Austin State Hospital operations to the Dell Medical School. The legislature will decide whether to proceed with it during the 2021 session.
Identifying the flaws
Strakowki concluded the facility was spending upwards of $200 million in patch work over the years instead of seeking long-term solutions. He also said the facility was outdated and averaged four patients per room. The current recommendation for similarly-capable facilities calls for only one patient per room.
“It’s not possible to deliver the best kind of care there.”
The re-imagined hospital, set to break ground in the fall, will offer state-of-the-art facilities for patients and provide new therapies to better transition people back into their own communities. The 375,000 square foot structure will provide a renewed facelift to the 150-year-old campus.
Power says this new push from the Texas legislature will allow others like him to come out from the dark.
“We don’t have to live in fear. We can express ourselves. We don’t have to hide it, bury it deep down, and hope it goes away.”
If you consult the Appraisal District’s records, you can get an idea of how valuable this land is.
Since it is government land, it is exempt from taxing. But if it were to hit the market, the current appraised value of both chunks of property the hospital owns is a total of more than $362 million dollars.
Opposition from others
The campus renovation plan isn’t sitting well with all its neighbors. The Friends of Hyde Park Neighborhood Association released a statement saying the plan does not go far enough.
The group is concerned it doesn’t include additional housing, affordable or otherwise; walkable amenities for patients or neighbors, or sufficient onsite parking.