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Dell Med School To Lead Austin State Hospital Revamp

Dell Med School To Lead Austin State Hospital Revamp
Austin State Hospital

Dell Medical School will lead the $15.5M planning effort to revamp the Austin State Hospital campus, locking in Sen. Kirk Watson's longtime vision of a Texas Center for Brain Health.

The fate of the Austin State Hospital, on a key piece of land in Central Austin, has been in limbo for a number of years. The original hospital campus, known as the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, was built in 1861. Over the decades, building and programs were added to the campus, but it has been decades since its most recent updates and many of the buildings have fallen into disrepair. 

The hospital sits on about 80 acres owned by the state. An adjacent 30 or so acres is in a long-term land lease with Central Park. That land was valued at $21M by the General Land Office in 2016. That figure is probably low, given that the nearby Baker Center, on four acres in the historic Hyde Park subdivision next door, recently sold for $11M.

Watson, a Democrat who represents Austin, fought to incorporate the facility into broader plans for Austin's new medical school, which accepted its first entering class in 2016. A task force led by Dell Medical School with Central Health, Bluebonnet Trails Community Services and Hogg Foundation for Mental Health has begun meeting on the state hospital master plan.

The Texas Center for Brain Health will provide a continuum of care from outpatient and preventative services to inpatient and residential care, said Stephen Strakowski, chair of Dell Medical School's Department of Psychiatry, in a statement released Monday.

"We want to use this once-in-a-generation opportunity to change what it means to have a brain health campus at the heart of a multidisciplinary, community-focused, modern system that serves all people impacted by mental health and substance abuse," said Strakowski, who will lead the task force on the master plan.

The task force expects to deliver the full plan to the state legislature before the legislative session begins in 2019. Many of the buildings on the site, although historic, are decrepit and will have to be razed.

Lawmakers approved $300M last session to update and revamp the flagging state hospital system. On Monday, the Health and Human Services Commission announced the release of $47.7M to update psychiatric facilities.

Initial funding will target five of the state's 10 campuses. Along with capital to plan an update of the Austin campus, funds will cover renovation projects to expand the capacity of hospitals in Kerrville and San Antonio; architectural planning and design of a new campus in Houston; architectural planning and design of two new 100-bed units at Rusk State Hospital; and the planning for the eventual replacement of the San Antonio State Hospital.

The balance of the $300M will be released over two years. The funding is not expected to cover all the repairs anticipated in the hospital system.