Newswise — Government officials and community leaders gathered to break ground today on a $125 million building on the UTHealth Continuum of Care Campus for Behavioral Health. The new building, a 240-bed hospital, is a joint project of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).
The newest hospital was created with state funding awarded to HHSC by the 2017 Legislative Budget Board and Gov. Greg Abbott as part of a statewide initiative to improve behavioral health across Texas. Slated to be completed in early 2022, the additional hospital building will make the UTHealth Continuum of Care Campus the largest academic psychiatric hospital in the country.
“UTHealth is uniquely well-positioned to transform mental health care in Texas and beyond,” said UTHealth President Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD. “With experts across the spectrum of brain and behavioral health, our faculty are at the forefront of new therapies for mental illnesses. This campus will not only increase our capacity, which is desperately needed, but will also provide new opportunities to research and develop treatments for these devastating and widespread conditions.”
Physicians and staff will focus on reducing rapid readmissions and improving outcomes for patients with four or more stays per year. The facility will be the first public mental health hospital built in Houston in more than three decades and, like the adjacent HCPC, will be managed and staffed by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
“The integrated campus will help our team of carefully selected specialists maximize efforts to provide relief to community members suffering from mental illnesses,” said Jair Soares, MD, PhD, the Pat R. Rutherford, Jr. Chair in Psychiatry and executive director of the UTHealth Continuum of Care Campus. “Leveraging the latest research and education surrounding mental health will help us provide innovative and comprehensive care, and set a standard for how mental illness should be treated moving forward.”
Construction of the new facility comes as legislators continue to prioritize improving the behavioral health system in Texas.
“The state is making an unprecedented and lifesaving investment in helping people with mental illness. This is a true partnership with a common mission of providing absolutely the best care possible,” said Courtney N. Phillips, PhD, executive commissioner of HHSC. “We are making progress, expanding our efforts, and moving forward to proactively address the mental health needs of Texans.”
The new facility, designed by Perkins+Will, is centered around light, nature, and central living space, to be naturally supportive of appropriate and helpful interactions of patients with staff and with other patients. Plans include a therapy mall, activity room, and a communal dining facility that look into the internal courtyard through floor-to-ceiling glass. In addition to more acute beds, the new hospital will also have subacute care units for patients who need a longer stay to heal. Vaughn Construction is managing the project.
Leaders from across the state were instrumental in securing these funds two years ago, including the author and sponsor of funding bill SB 1, Sen. Jane Nelson and Rep. John Zerwas, MD, and state leaders such as Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus. Sen. Charles Schwertner, MD, and Rep. Sarah Davis, who oversee budget negotiations for health and human service programs, led the effort in their respective chambers to make sure this critical funding was included. Most of the Texas Medical Center is in Rep. Davis’ district. Other members of the Harris County delegation were vocal in their support of the project and ultimately ensured Houstonians will have the access to care that they deserve.
“The Texas Legislature has made a commitment to increasing access to mental health services, and the expansion of the UTHealth Continuum of Care Campus is a prime example of that investment in action,” said Rep. Zerwas. “The ability to serve more people and better the lives of Texans, while lowering costs elsewhere, such as the criminal justice system, is a true success.”
The UTHealth Continuum of Care Campus was a recommended project by two interim committees before the 2017 session. After a long study, tours, and briefings, the Houston project was recommended for funding by the Senate Interim Committee on Health and Human Services, led by Sen. Schwertner and vice chaired by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst; and the House Select Committee on Mental Health, which was led by Rep. Four Price and included local mental health champions Reps. Garnet Coleman, Sarah Davis, and Senfronia Thompson.