Reconstruction of San Antonio Behavioral Health Care To Reflect Modern Attitudes

Texas Health and Human Services (HHS) is rebuilding the San Antonio State Hospital as part of a legislated undertaking to revamp the state’s psychiatric hospital system. An amount of $300 million has been budgeted to overhaul the faltering system. The hope is that the new San Antonio Behavioral Health Care system will uplift the lives of many!

In June 2018, Governor Abbott signed S.B.1 into law, approving the use of these funds for the reconstruction and repair of hospitals that have been neglected for decades. When these hospitals were built, mental health care was not nearly as advanced as it is today, and outdated structures have hindered treatment.

San Antonio Behavioral Health Care

San Antonio Behavioral Health Care provides inpatient psychiatric services to children and adults. Unfortunately, in recent years, it has proven inadequate to service all potential patients, especially regarding capacity and resources. This is at least, in part, because it was not designed to provide the sort of psychiatric care that is considered standard today.

On the contrary, the San Antonio State Hospital was originally the Southwest Insane Asylum, reflecting the attitudes towards mental illness in the 1800s when it was built. While it was certainly an upgrade on previous facilities, it was still decades behind effective psychiatric medication and therapeutic interventions. As such, the implementation of modern psychiatric practice has been hindered by the nature of the building itself.

What’s Happening Today?

The San Antonio State Hospital was built back when the city had 37 thousand residents. Today, with 1.5 million residents along with “modern views” of mental health, a complete renovation has been deemed necessary. Attitudes towards psychiatric care have changed and, over the past few decades, care itself has improved. The focus has turned to recovery, instead of simply the reduction of symptoms, and patients are not expected to remain in hospitals indefinitely for the treatment of mental health disorders.

The Need for a System Transformation

The design of a building contributes significantly to how it is used, and this is especially true in hospitals. Furthermore, practices that have until now been accepted as normal are leading to poor levels of care and a breakdown in the system itself.

Gaps in Psychiatric Care

The prevailing opinion is that Texas State Hospitals insufficiently cater to psychiatric care. Many patients are falling through the cracks, not getting the care they need, due to gaps in the system.

Currently Available Mental Health Services

Due to a lack of space and resources, current mental health services cater mainly to those suffering from severe conditions, who are a danger to themselves or others. After stabilizing on medication for a few weeks, patients are discharged. Consequently, community services are expected to cover any further care.

Demand for a Better Quality Inpatient Program

This approach, however, is insufficient. While psychiatric patients should not remain in hospital indefinitely, many require more time to get well before having to deal with the responsibilities of day-to-day life. Furthermore, the time in an inpatient program should be spent learning therapeutic skills, seeing therapists, and improving coping mechanisms, in addition to the stability medication can offer.

Texas Health and Human Services: New Project

Texas Health and Human Services hope to transform the system with the new state-funded project.

Striving for Improvement

This project reflects the reality that state services are now striving for improvement, rather than trying to maintain the bare minimum that has been accepted for so long. Providers wish to help more people with high quality patient care that takes into account what each individual needs.

Transforming the State Hospital System

The State Hospital System as a whole is being transformed in order to deal with the high number of patients and the requirements of modern psychiatric care. The Texas HHS have set out the following mission statement for the first phase:

  • Enhance the safety, quality of care, and access to treatment for Texans with mental health disorders
  • Expand capacity along with reducing waiting lists for inpatient psychiatric treatment, particularly for maximum security units
  • Increase collaboration with potential partners including stakeholders, advocates, and higher education as well as health-related institutions

This transformation includes the plans for the new San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital. The new high-capacity hospital hopes to provide better care, using modern treatment provided by happier staff.

Continuous Care

Furthermore, patients will no longer be expected to rely on the state hospital as their first or last port-of-call. There will be a continuum of care that spans a full array of mental health services. Many behavioral health conditions are chronic, and patients at San Antonio Behavioral Health Care will not be expected to leave completely “cured.” Rather, they will continue receiving care on an outpatient basis, or from alternative providers.

Benefits of the New System

There is great excitement over the new system that will provide a range of benefits, including:

  • a much higher capacity for psychiatric patients
  • a far lower staff turnover (due to improved working conditions)
  • modernized behavioral healthcare programs
  • continuous care that does not begin and end at an inpatient institution
  • improved equipment and resources for diagnosing and treating behavioral disorders

Promising Advancements

The new behavioral healthcare system shows a promising trend towards better understanding and treating mental illness. Outdated systems are finally being replaced, and the state is recognizing that far more people need care than those who are already in a severe condition. Staff can expect better working conditions, as well as higher job satisfaction.

The Future of Behavioral Health Care in San Antonio

With the new San Antonio Behavioral Health Care system, the future looks bright for the city’s residents. Behavioral conditions are no longer seen as rare and limited to extreme disturbances.

Texas HHS plans for this to be a long-term project that promises consistent change and development in the behavioral health system. As more people will receive treatment, mental health care can take its place alongside other forms of health care in priority and approach. 

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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