Federal funding would help complete a new state mental hospital for Dallas under the Texas Senate’s plan


Updated at 6:20 p.m .: Please note The house bill also includes funds for the Dallas project.

AUSTIN – Flower Mound Republican Senator Jane Nelson’s proposal to spend Texas’s share of President Joe Biden’s March aid package would mean $ 237.8 million of federal funds to complete construction of a new state psychiatric hospital in the area from Dallas-Fort Worth.

Nelson introduced on Friday Senate Act 8, their plan to spend $ 16.3 billion in federal funds earmarked for Texas under the American Rescue Plan Act. It is SB 8 of the third special session of the year, not to be confused with the Embryonic Heartbeat for Abortion Bill from the regular session.

If it prevails at the Dallas Hospital, this year lawmakers will have allocated $ 282.5 million, 84% of which is federal funding, to the long-awaited project.

The state Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees state mental health clinics, will oversee the hospital, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center will operate it.

“UT Southwestern is grateful for recognizing the need to accelerate funding for this important project in partnership with HHSC,” said spokesman Russell Rian in a written statement. “A Dallas State Mental Hospital is critical to improving our ability to care for those in need of mental health services in North Texas.”

Late Friday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, tabled a similar measure. House bill 2. It would also provide $ 237.8 million of federal funding for the Dallas Project.

As expected, both bills would spend $ 7.2 billion, or 44% of federal funding, to replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund.

With unemployment skyrocketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund’s balance has gone. Texas employers are concerned that unemployment tax increases are unprecedented. Tax rates doubled for employers in Texas after the 2007-2009 economic downturn. Throughout the year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the chairman of the Senate, promised to use federal aid money to prevent a tax hike on the unemployment fund.

Nelson also suggested spending $ 3.7 billion of federal funds on behalf of responding to a pandemic to free state dollars to be used for salaries and benefits for state prison guards and soldiers. This would further replenish a government surplus of $ 6 billion for the current two-year fiscal cycle expected by Auditor Glenn Hegar.

Nelson would also use $ 3 billion to provide medical staff to hospitals affected by COVID-19 and to provide therapies to people infected with the virus; US $ 500 million for higher education projects and broadband expansion; $ 300 million for a “state operations center” to aid the state in disaster relief; and $ 286 million to cover COVID-related health claims from retired teachers.

But the next largest funding in SB 8 would be the nearly $ 240 million to complete a state mental hospital in Dallas.

“COVID-19 has affected Texas on many fronts, and this bill takes a holistic approach to addressing a wide variety of needs that have emerged during the pandemic,” Nelson said in a written statement.

Referring to the Dallas Mental Hospital and a program that would provide mental health treatment to young people that would receive $ 113 million off their bill, Nelson said the move would “expand access to mental health care.”

For years, the Parkland Memorial Hospital has been pleading for the construction of a new state psychiatric clinic, citing a severe shortage of psychiatric beds.

“We are pleased that Senator Nelson has included funding for a government-sponsored Dallas mental hospital in her bill,” said Katherine Yoder, vice president of government relations for Parkland Health & Hospital System. “This is an urgent need in our region and it will really improve the lives of many Parkland patients.”

In a Thursday letter to the Senate budget drafters, Dale Petroskey, president of the Dallas Regional Chamber, Justice Clay Jenkins of Dallas County, and Jon Roth, executive director of the Dallas County Medical Society, stated that Dallas was “the largest metropolitan area in the state remains without psychiatry ”. Health hospital. “

The project has widespread local support and UT Southwestern has “one of the largest residency psychiatric programs in the country,” they said.

In 2014, CannonDesign, an independent architecture and engineering firm, found Texas had to completely replace five aging state hospitals and add 1,100 inpatient psychiatric beds over the next 10 years.

In 2017, lawmakers began multi-year efforts to renovate, replace, and build state mental health clinics.

Since then, the legislature has have spent more than $ 1 billion for the construction of a new UTHealth Behavioral Sciences Center in Houston; new psychiatric hospitals on existing campuses in San Antonio and Austin to replace aging structures; and improvements to existing government hospitals in Rusk and Kerrville.

Much to the annoyance of some Dallas civic leaders, however, not only was the Dallas-Fort Worth area lacking an existing state hospital – the closest is in Terrell – but it was rejected by the budget drafters, even for relatively small sums of money that were requested for “preliminary planning.”

The CannonDesign Study had pointed to “the Waco / Dallas / Arlington Corridor” as one of the “three potentially underserved areas” of the state.

Business and citizen leaders said they couldn’t understand the North Texas legislative delegation’s failure to snatch some of the funds to build a mental hospital more central to the state’s largest urban center.

Last May, lawmakers passed a two-year budget that included $ 44.7 million to plan, design, and purchase land for the new Dallas State Hospital.

After the budget was signed, the Health and Human Services Commission stated that the advancement of the Dallas Hospital was a priority.

“There is an urgent need for additional inpatient mental health services in the Dallas area and we are excited to be working with UT Southwestern on this project to design a state-of-the-art hospital that meets the community’s mental health needs,” said HHS -Executive Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young in a written statement. “A new hospital will have a huge impact on our ability to care for the most vulnerable Texans who live in the surrounding metroplex.”

Nelson, who heads the Budget Committee on Finance and is leaving the Senate after nearly 30 years, was brimming with optimism.

“A new government hospital will fundamentally change our region,” said Nelson.

The state Senator Jane Nelson will not seek re-election next year after nearly three decades in the Senate, she said on Monday.  Nelson, R-Flower Mound, was the Senate's top budget writer for four sessions.  (2009 AP Photo / Harry Cabluck)

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