To make way for a replacement of the over 100-year-old Austin State Hospital in Central Austin, construction crews could start clearing land on the campus as early as October, pending allocation of state funds.

“There’s a really strong recognition [among lawmakers] that we’re not providing the type of mental health care we should and we’re having things that we’re have to spend money on because of it,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, regarding political will to provide funding for state mental health hospital renovations. “For example, if we can do better with regard to mental health care in our state, we might have less cost in our criminal justice system and that’s just talking about the economic cost.”

Dr. Stephen Strakowski, chair of the Austin State Hospital Steering Committee and chair of The University of Texas Dell Medical School Department of Psychiatry, outlined the results of a yearslong planning process that was led by leaders from Dell Medical School, The National Alliance for Mental Illness-Austin and other community members. The state-run mental hospital campus at 4110 Guadalupe St. near Hyde Park serves 75 counties spanning an area the size of Ohio.

“If it works as we intend it to in the next 10 years, we can change how people access care in the 75 counties this hospital serves,” Strakowski said.

Depending on what amount of funding for the project is allocated by the current state Legislature, the new state-run mental hospital will range from 216 to 288 beds along with funding set aside for partnerships with other regional hospitals to take in patients as well. In addition to constructing the new hospital building on the southwest corner of the campus adjacent to Central Market, options within the plan include renovations for the remaining buildings on the campus which house various out-patient services.

The plan also outlines ways the hospital interacts with law enforcement agencies to allow those apprehended for a crime and suspected to suffer from a mental illness to get evaluated and receive care more quickly rather than spending more time in a jail cell. The redevelopment plan could be completed by 2023, Stratowski said.

The state has over $300 million set aside in its supplemental budget to address needs at six state-run mental hospitals across the state, Watson said. While this would not cover the entire project, it signifies state lawmakers are prepared to take requests from Texas Health and Human Services, which oversees the budget for the state's mental hospitals, seriously, he said.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature allocated $15.5 million to fund the planning process for the redesign of the campus after a 2016 independent review found the state’s mental health hospitals in need of major renovations or complete replacements.

View the full plan here.

Editor's note: This post has been updated for clarity.