Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

New Austin State Hospital opens in partnership with Dell Medical School

Kennedy Weatherby
The Austin State Hospital completed renovation on Monday.

State leaders celebrated the opening of the new Austin State Hospital on May 15 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to honor the $305 million replacement facility. 

The new 240-bed facility, built on the existing 80-acre campus, is complete with single-person patient rooms, courtyards, screen porches and recreational spaces, including a gym, chapel, general store and salon, according to The Texas Tribune. The new facility was a collaborative effort between UT’s Dell Medical School and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, according to a press release from the health commission.

“Nevermind the fact that the building was really old and in really crummy shape, which is not very helpful for anybody,” said Carol Alter, Dell Medical School’s associate chair for clinical integration and operations. “But if we’re really talking about maximizing the benefits of therapy … getting people back to the community, you need a completely different space to have that happen.” 

Stephen Strakowski, Dell Medical School’s associate vice president for regional mental health, said the partnership came about around seven years ago when then-state Sen. Kirk Watson wanted to bring in an academic partner to help design the hospital. 

“(Watson and I) worked together with the leadership of (the health commission) at that time,” Strakowski said. “Sen. Watson also sponsored a bill … to start making that the standard practice where these new facilities had the local medical schools supporting their bill to try to be as evidence-based and modern as possible.” 

Completed in 1861, Strakowski said the state’s first psychiatric hospital was originally designed to keep patients contained, with four or more occupants per room, little lighting and narrow hallways.  He said the old facility had lived past its utility and was identified as beyond repair and in need of replacement in a 2015 state study.

“In the time since (the original hospital) was built, we’ve learned a lot about people’s ability to retreat to their own room when they need to and having lots of light and natural views outside the hospital, all of which help improve recovery rates,” Strakowski said. 

Alter said the old facility’s problems stemmed from the number of patients staying for an extended amount of time due to staffing. She said the new facility makes it possible to fix this problem. 

“(The new facility) makes it possible for us to really look more closely at why people are in the hospital and change the care model being delivered,” Alter said. “As we are able to get people to a place where we can say, ‘you can get better, and these are the services you need, and we can help to improve the care you’re getting,’ we can discharge them out of the hospital.” 

Sydney Harris, Dell Medical School’s director of mental health care redesign, said she convened over 150 stakeholders throughout Central Texas that would potentially use the Austin State Hospital for care, including law enforcement and healthcare providers. 

“(The new hospital) is a magnificent building that really proves that people with mental healthcare, who may not have always been treated (the same as) someone with a heart attack, now get to receive care in this amazing, beautiful building that’s focused on mental health,” Harris said.

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