MCH board will vote on legislation endorsement

Medical Center Hospital's President and Chief Executive Officer Russell Tippin speaks on the current COVID-19 cases the hospital is battling during a press conference Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, in the hospital board room. (OA File Photo)

The Medical Center Hospital board is expected to decide Friday whether it will endorse proposed legislation that would create the legal mechanism to create a new mental health hospital district to oversee a new behavioral health center.

In 2021, state lawmakers passed legislation that included $40 million for the new center, which will be constructed and built by hospital districts in Midland and Ector counties. Medical Center Hospital CEO Russell Tippin and Russell Meyers, president of Midland Memorial Hospital are in the process of trying to secure the rest of the funding for the facility, which they hope to build on FM 1788.

House Bill 492, which is sponsored by Midland Republican State Rep. Tom Craddick, would create a mental health hospital district comprised of a Midland and Ector County board of directors.

During a committee hearing last week, Craddick testified the area is in desperate need of mental health services. He indicated the 2021 legislation that gave $40 million to the project was rushed and this new bill would help tighten up some details.

MCH Board Member Wallace Dunn said there have been many meetings and planning sessions regarding the new Permian Basin Behavioral Health Center. “This legislation does not create a new hospital district, it merely creates the legal mechanism to do so for the purpose of receiving the property from the State of Texas.”

Dunn said ultimately each hospital board (MMH and MCH) will have to eventually vote in favor of creating the new mental health hospital district. ” I fully support the building of the new facility and look forward to working with our partners at Midland Memorial Hospital on this joint venture between the Ector County and Midland County Hospital District.”

Medical Center Health System CEO Russell Tippin said Thursday both he and the MCH board are concerned the proposed bill will create another unnecessary layer of government, however they remain committed to partnering with Midland Memorial Hospital for the behavioral health center, which will be partially funded by $40 million that was appropriated during the 2021 legislative session.

“We look forward to the beginning of the construction phase of the Behavioral Health Hospital and will continue to be a visible partner in this new adventure,” Tippin said.

Representatives of the Texas Facilities Commission testified last week they had no opinion on whether creating the new district is necessary. However, they said they will bend to “whatever the will of the legislature is.”

Tippin said he and the MCH board want to thank Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, and Craddick for their work.

“MCH recognizes that behavioral and mental health services are severely underserved in the Permian Basin. We will be great partners with MMH and look forward to serving our patients in this new line of service. MCH will always protect our hospital, taxpayers and patients first. “

Landgraf agreed the mental health facility is desperately needed and said the hospital’s board vote on a new mental health hospital district is important.

“I want to reflect what their view is on this process,” he added.

The future behavioral health center will not be impacted by Craddick’s bill, Landgraf said.

“I want to be clear that the creation of the new mental health hospital district is a separate issue from the construction of a behavioral health hospital,” Landgraf added. “If they (the MCH board) are convinced (the district) is necessary, then I want to be on the same page with them.”

Tippin said the board will decide their position Friday and relay to Landgraf how they want to move forward. “After the board looks at all the options, they will make the right decision.”

In 2021, Senate Bill 8, legislation directing how the state will spend federal dollars allocated to Texas under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, was passed. Landgraf and Craddick worked together to ensure the mental health hospital funding was included in the final version of the bill.

The center will include 100 inpatient beds and outpatient psychiatric care facilities, along with a crisis stabilization unit, professional offices, and counseling and therapeutic spaces appropriate for all ages.

Texans who live in the Permian Basin currently have to drive to Lubbock or San Angelo to access similar care.

“In the weeks and months after the August 31, 2019, mass shooting, local leaders in Odessa and Midland identified the need for additional behavioral and mental health services in our region. COVID-19 put that discussion on hold momentarily. I’m thankful that we kept the drum beat going, and that our communities have come together to accomplish this important goal. I’m proud of our work together,” Landgraf said in 2021.

The proposed hospital has had support from many foundations and the Permian Strategic Partnership. In 2021, Odessa’s Collin Sewell and PSP Chairman Don Evans penned an op-ed that detailed their support for a new facility.

PSP did an in-depth healthcare assessment that year that found access to behavioral health services and a shortage of specialists, such as psychiatrists, is one of the most urgent healthcare needs in the region.