Dave Moore, Staff Writer
More than 30 organizations from across North Texas are asking the Texas Legislature to allocate $238 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to construct an approximately 200-bed behavioral health facility to serve the Dallas-Fort Worth Region, which has no state psychiatric hospital of its own.
The facility, which would be operated by UT Southwestern Medical Center, would help reduce wait times for North Texans seeking urgent mental health care, according to Dr. Hicham Ibrahim, Associate Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Ambulatory Services at UT Southwestern.
Dr. Ibrahim was one of dozens who attended a virtual meeting organized and held by the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) regarding the hospital on Sept. 23.
“Our patients often have to wait long periods of time in emergency rooms or general hospitals before they can get admitted” to a psychiatric facility, Dr. Ibrahim told attendees. “More capacity is vital to meeting growing demand for services as the population expands and to reducing wait times. Without a significant investment in expanding the current hospital capacity, wait times will worsen,” he said.
The nearest state hospital to the DFW metro is Terrell State Hospital, which is almost 60 miles east of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
According to a review by the mental health advocacy group Treatment Advocacy Center, Dallas-Fort Worth currently has about five state hospital psychiatric inpatient beds per 100,000 residents, which is less than half the national average of 11.7 beds.
The center recommends that metro regions have 40-60 beds per 100,000 residents.
DRC Senior Vice President of Public Policy Matt Garcia told meeting attendees that proponents of the plan to fund the new state psychiatric hospital have until the end of the current special legislative session to advocate for construction funding. He noted that the Legislature previously voted during its regular session earlier this year to approve $44.8 million in state funding for the planning and land acquisition costs of a state psychiatric hospital in North Texas.
The coalition group is now hoping the Legislature will allot $238 million to complete construction funding for the project. Those funds are available as part of Texas’ $16 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding, Garcia said.
The project will be competing against numerous others, he added. The Legislature will select the projects it will fund before the end of the special session on Oct. 20.
“We’ll be drafting a delegation-wide letter, seeking support” for the legislation, Garcia said. “The more support we get, the better. We believe we’re in good position to get full funding this session.”
The coalition has already sent a letter to state lawmakers on both the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Jane Nelson (R- Flower Mound), chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, included the $238 million in funding in her bill on appropriating COVID-19 relief money, filed October 1 – an important first step for the coalition’s efforts. The bill will receive a hearing by the full Senate Finance Committee on October 4. Likewise, Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, also included the funding is his relief money bill, filed October 1.
Angelica Marin Hill, Vice President of Government Affairs & Policy at UT Southwestern, told attendees that planning has just begun for the facility and will include opportunities for community and stakeholder input. Preliminary plans call for the new facility to:
- be an acute care, shorter-stay psychiatric hospital;
- treat conditions that require hospitalization, such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorders, addiction, and dual-diagnoses, as well as patients who have co-existing medical and behavioral health conditions;
- and work in conjunction with the 305-bed Terrell State Hospital, which would care for individuals on a longer-term basis.
Meeting attendees noted that the recent closures of several private mental health facilities – which often serve as backup for state hospitals – have increased the urgency for the construction of a new state psychiatric hospital for Dallas-Fort Worth.
From a national perspective, the number of mental health hospital beds has dropped precipitously since the 1950s, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.
“From their historic peak in 1955, the number of state hospital beds in the United States had plummeted almost 97% by 2016,” according to the center.
Research from the center also shows that due to voids in mental health services and facilities, people with severe mental illnesses are landing in jails, prisons, and emergency rooms.
“There’s an increasing demand on police and sheriff’s deputies, who, for all intents and purposes, become frontline mental health workers,” according to the center’s report, “No Room at the Inn.”
To join the coalition supporting the funding of a state psychiatric hospital for Dallas-Fort Worth, contact Matt Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.