Texas to begin construction this year on seven new psychiatric hospital projects

A map of Texas showing various psychiatric hospitals in Texas. Credit: Maria Crane/The Texas Tribune

By Stephen Simpson, The Texas Tribune

Texas will begin building seven new state psychiatric hospital projects this year as it continues to attempt to address the mental health crisis.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission projects are funded by $1.5 billion, which lawmakers approved in 2023 to expand, renovate and build new facilities across the state. The agency owns and operates nine state hospitals and one residential treatment center for youth.

Gov. Greg Abbott detailed the plans in a press release Thursday.

“Last year, I signed a law to provide crucial funding to expand and build new, modern mental health facilities throughout Texas,” Abbott said. “These new state hospital projects will help ensure that Texans experiencing a mental health issue have access to mental health professionals and high-quality treatments to address their needs.”

A majority of these funds will be used to construct the new Panhandle State Hospital in Amarillo and the Lubbock Psychiatric Center, as well as a 250-bed replacement for the Terrell State Hospital and a 200-bed replacement for the North Texas State Hospital in Wichita Falls.

Around $120 million will be used to add a 50-bed maximum-security unit at the Rio Grande State Center in Harlingen, and $15 million will be used to add a 40-bed maximum-security unit at the San Antonio State Hospital. The state is also planning to buy land to expand the current El Paso Psychiatric Center by 50 non-maximum-security beds.

State hospitals treat mostly forensic patients — people transferred from county jails or the state prison system because they were determined to be incompetent to stand trial or because a jury found them not guilty by reason of insanity.

In 2023, a little over 60% of adults treated inside state hospitals came from the criminal justice system, either from county jails or the prison system.

Over the past two decades, the state has reported a 38% increase in people who are found incompetent to stand trial. And as of last year, more than 2,300 people were waiting in Texas county jails for months and sometimes more than a year for the kind of intense therapy and medication treatment available only through the state’s psychiatric hospital system.

At the urging of county jail officials, state lawmakers undertook a massive funding operation to repair or build new state psychiatric facilities. Since 2017, lawmakers have provided $2.5 billion to modernize and increase access to inpatient psychiatric care in Texas.

Replacement hospitals in Austin and San Antonio have already had their grand openings, and both are expected to be up in running later this summer.

“We are extremely proud of the transformation of our state hospital system and the opportunities being created,” said Deputy Executive Commissioner for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s Health and Specialty Care System Scott Schalchlin in a news release. “These projects will improve the well-being of even more people across the state. We’re not just building hospitals — we’re rebuilding lives.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/06/20/texas-hospitals-mental-health/.

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