Ribbon-cutting held for new UTHealth Houston academic psychiatric hospital built in partnership with state

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A new academic psychiatric hospital, part of the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center, will combine the most advanced patient care, research, and education when it opens next month at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston) in partnership with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and the Texas Medical Center.

A ribbon-cutting was held Feb. 2. Patient services will begin in March.

The 253,000 square-foot facility, which includes 264 new inpatient beds, was funded by the 85th Texas Legislative Session in 2017. The first years of the hospital’s operational funding were approved by the 87th Legislature in 2021. The hospital building carries the name of the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center in gratitude for a generous gift from the Dunn Foundation to bolster the university’s behavioral health initiatives and address significant gaps in mental health care services.

“We are truly grateful to our state leaders and legislators, our partners at HHSC, and the Dunn Foundation for their shared vision and transformative investment in behavioral health,” said UTHealth Houston President Giuseppe Colasurdo, MD. “This center is an integral part of our collaborative, comprehensive effort to ensure that everyone in our community has access to the very best in mental health services.

The new academic psychiatric hospital and the nearby UTHealth Houston Harris County Psychiatric Center combine to create the UTHealth Houston Behavioral Sciences Campus and the largest academic psychiatric hospital in the country with 538 beds.

“Increasing access to mental and behavioral health care has long been a priority for Governor Abbott,” said Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott. “The State of Texas is proud to invest in resources, like the new UTHealth Houston Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center, that will ensure Texans receive the best care available and help us better address mental and behavioral health challenges.”

The additional beds will allow UTHealth Houston to reach out to a larger region as part of its contract with HHSC, serving 29 contiguous counties spreading out from Houston. It is the first public psychiatric hospital to be built in the state in 25 years.

“This new state-of-the-art facility is a much-needed investment in the community and it will have a long-lasting impact in our ability to provide care for the most vulnerable Texans living with serious mental illness,” said Texas HHSC Executive Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young.

The facility accommodates multiple patient populations and levels of treatment with access to medication management, group and individual therapy, and educational and life skills training.

“This new academic psychiatric facility will help us expand our efforts to serve our community and alleviate suffering from major mental illnesses by leveraging cutting-edge research, patient care, and education around mental health,” said Jair Soares, MD, PhD, the Pat R. Rutherford, Jr. Chair In Psychiatry at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and executive director of the new hospital.

“This new facility will allow us to create a more complete continuum of care by providing step-down beds for those patients who need more time in the hospital than a typical acute care stay provides,” said Stephen Glazier, FACHE, COO of the new hospital. “We will also partner with our local mental health authority, the Harris Center, to provide a housing component to our continuum with the new supported housing units they have recently opened. By providing a complete and integrated continuum of care, we expect to get much better outcomes for our patients.”

Results of two small, recently published studies led by Alia Warner, PhD, assistant professor; and Scott Lane, PhD, professor and vice chair for research in the Faillace Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, revealed that longer stays for select first or early onset of psychosis patients in a step-down setting resulted in lower hospital readmission rates and a lower likelihood of conviction of at least one crime post-discharge.

The new facility, built by Vaughn Construction, includes support space for staff and student education and research, and a multi-use therapy mall. The architecture, interior design and landscape architecture was designed by Perkins&Will to promote a healing atmosphere.

Two internal courtyards allow access to the outdoors with walking paths, seating areas, and gardens. Wall-sized murals, which include photographs of Greater Houston and Texas landmarks and landscapes, were commission specifically for the hospital.
The cafeteria includes a wall of inspirational sayings about nutrition.
Natural light from large windows, noise-reducing materials, and lighting were designed to lower stress. Each unit also has a group room used for therapy sessions, art and music therapy, and recreation and relaxing. Rooms include chalkboards for a creative outlet for patients.

A large space on the fourth level for inpatient and outpatient services for people suffering from treatment-resistant behavioral health disorders has been designed with natural light and a Galveston scene mural.
One wing of the new building contains space for teaching and training new clinicians including doctors, nurses, therapists, and researchers.

“The new hospital building improves access to inpatient psychiatric care for our community,” said Lokesh Shahani, MD, MPH, associate professor in the Faillace Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and chief medical officer of the new hospital. “It provides us an opportunity to develop innovative and personalized ways of caring for individuals suffering with mental illness.”

Special Appreciation
Many people at the Texas State Capitol and across the state were instrumental in securing the construction funds, including the author and sponsor of SB 1, Sen. Jane Nelson and Rep. John Zerwas, MD, now executive vice chancellor of Health Affairs for The University of Texas System, and state leaders Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former House Speaker Joe Straus. Sen. Charles Schwertner, MD, and former Rep. Sarah Davis, who oversaw budget negotiations for health and human service programs, led the effort in their respective chambers to make sure funding was included. Other members of the Harris County delegation were vocal in their support.

The new building was also a recommended project by two interim committees before the session. After a long study, tours and briefings, the Houston project was recommended for this behavioral health 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 Houston mental health champions Rep. Garnet Coleman and Rep. Senfronia Thompson.

In addition to statewide leadership from Gov. Abbott, Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan, legislators who were key to operational funding of these beds during the 87th Legislature were SB 1 and HB 2 author/sponsor Sen. Nelson and Rep. Greg Bonnen, MD. Additionally, the chief budget negotiators for the health and human service programs in conference committee were Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and Rep. Giovanni Capriglione assisted by Rep. Ann Johnson, a member of the House Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

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