HomeHealthMental HealthUT Southwestern breaks ground on new state psychiatric hospital

UT Southwestern breaks ground on new state psychiatric hospital

Health officials demolished the state’s new psychiatric hospital in Dallas on Monday, ending the countdown to the opening of the much needed mental health option in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center will operate the 296-bed state facility called the Texas Behavioral Health Center at UT Southwestern as part of an effort by Texas lawmakers to renovate and expand the state’s hospital system. The North Texas hospital will cost $482.5 million and will finish construction in 2025, according to Texas Health and Human Services.

Texas Behavioral Health Center will primarily treat patients who have acute mental health problems, meaning their hospital stay will be relatively short. About 96 of the hospital’s beds will be available exclusively for children and adolescents following a $200 million gift from Children’s Health.

“This facility alone won’t meet all of these needs, but it will be an important way to ensure that those who need at least a short-term hospital stay have a much higher chance of access,” said Dr. Daniel Podolsky, president of UT Southwest. “It will be a focal point for getting patients to the most appropriate facility for the level of care they need.”

The need for access to mental health care has never been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of American high school students reported poor mental health during the pandemic.

The Dallas-Fort Worth struggle with adequate mental health options began long before the pandemic. The state determined in 2014 that there was a need for a hospital in North Texas; the area’s closest psychiatric center, Terrell State Hospital, is about 45 minutes east of Dallas.

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Located on Amelia Court in Dallas’ Medical District, the new facility represents one of several facilities the state is building or replacing along with other UT System schools in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio.

Dallas’ new hospital should relieve some of the pressure felt by other local institutions dealing with the overwhelming need for intensive mental health care. Patients who come to emergency departments and private facilities experiencing a mental health crisis often have to wait days or weeks before receiving a state psychiatric hospital bed.

Inmates often face the worst of those waiting times when trying to get care in a state facility. Earlier this year, Dallas County officials said 400 inmates deemed “unfit to stand trial” waited an average of 330 days for charges of violence to be transferred. According to state data, the average wait time for a state psychiatric bed is longer in the county than in any other metropolitan county in Texas.

The Texas Behavioral Health Center will have several beds specifically for inmates, but how many has not yet been determined, said Scott Schalchlin, deputy executive commissioner for the Health and Human Services Commission’s Health and Specialty Care System.

“We want to go through this legislative session and see if the legislature wants to give us anything else,” Schalchlin said. “Maybe there are other hospitals, maybe not, but once we have the final picture, we can say, ‘Okay, let’s allocate as many beds here.'”

Dr. Hicham Ibrahim speaks as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Health host a groundbreaking ceremony for the state’s newest psychiatric hospital in the Medical District of Dallas, TX, on December 2, 2022. (Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

The hospital will contain a courtroom that will be used primarily by North Texas’ four major counties — Dallas, Collin, Denton and Tarrant — to facilitate the transfer of inmates to the hospital.

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Another core component of the new hospital is better access to training for students and mental health professionals. A shortage of mental health professionals across the country often leaves patients without options, and it is expected to get worse.

“This center will support the pipeline of mental health professionals being trained in our health facilities. We want the medical assistants who train in Texas to stay in Texas, and this partnership with UT Southwestern will help us achieve that goal,” said Cecile Young, executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

A number of state elected officials, including Senators Jane Nelson and Royce West and State Representative Toni Rose, attended the groundbreaking event.

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