Lawmaker hopes to transform Austin State Hospital to model facility

Austin State Hospital
Austin State Hospital

AUSTIN (KXAN) —  The future of the Austin State Hospital (ASH) has been unknown for months, after the state said it was in such bad shape it needed to be replaced. A study said five of 10 facilities have not been meeting the standard of care.

For people who rely on the mental health services there, it’s a big concern, something Sen. Kirk Watson has been working to address.

“Any time you have a report come out that says half of your state hospitals are so bad you have to tear them down, we haven’t done what we need to do,” said Sen. Watson. “We don’t treat brain health the same way we treat other healthcare, I want to change that.”

With help from the Dell Medical School and community partners, he wants to begin a two-year planning process for a facility to replace the Austin State Hospital. Watson envisions it will be a “MD Anderson of the Brain.” It’s one piece of his ’10 Goals in 10 Years’ vision he set out to achieve in 2011.

“Mental health issues are common. They may be hidden, but they’re common. So we have this unique opportunity to rethink how we do it. That’s what I want to do over the next two years,” said Watson.

He says his goal this legislative session is to get authorization from lawmakers for the planning process. While they have a vision for what they want out of the facility, Watson said specifics won’t come until the planning process begins.

Playwright Helen Sneed says the idea is exciting. For decades she’s struggled with mental illness and getting care.

“Given the stigma and history of less than adequate care, I think it’s very important for people to feel they have a special place of their own,” said Sneed. “It’s a fight every day, it’s a struggle every day, but it’s worth making.”

Sneed now speaks to others living with mental illness, encouraging them to never lose hope.

“My favorite word is ‘onward,'” said Sneed. “I always want to tell people to have hope, because it took me a long time, but I have a great life.”

Watson hopes if they can move forward with the facility, it will be a model the rest of the state and nation can look to replicate.

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