Behavioral health hospitals to increase access to care in WilCo

Prior to the opening of the Bluebonnet Trails Community Services' San Gabriel Crisis Respite Center at 711 N. College St. in Georgetown in September 2008, there were no dedicated psychiatric beds in Williamson County. That meant a person in the midst of a mental health crisis either ended up in an emergency room or had to travel out of the county for care.

In early 2014 two new mental health hospitals are expected to open in Georgetown and add 190 psychiatric beds to the existing 16 beds available for patients.

"It's similar to if we didn't have any medical hospitals in the county, and all of a sudden we had two—you could imagine it would really ease the burden in lots of different systems," said Annie Burwell, Williamson County Mobile Outreach Team director. "A lot of times people have to wait in emergency rooms for psychiatric beds to open up, so this will alleviate a lot of that wait time and strain."

The MOT is one of several organizations operating in Williamson County that works with other groups including Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, which operates the Crisis Respite Unit, law enforcement and EMS to assist individuals and families experiencing mental health crises. Burwell said the MOT receives between 3,000 and 4,000 calls a year.

"I think nationwide there are a lot of areas that don't have enough psychiatric care. I don't think we're very unusual in that. It's just psychiatry [services] in general [are] hard to obtain. It hasn't kept up with demand," Burwell said. "To have a county with almost half a million people and not have any psychiatric beds except for the respite center that is relatively new, we've been needing these beds for a long time, and I think it's going to make a big impact."

Growing need

Williamson County's rapid population growth—specifically in two populations including seniors as well as active-duty military members and veterans—captured the attention of Signature Healthcare Services when the company began looking for places to build a new hospital, Executive Vice President Blair Stam said.

In June the company broke ground on the Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute, a 73,500-square-foot, 118-bed facility at 3101 S. Austin Ave.

"Nationwide, in the areas with more population growth, there are going to be more needs," Stam said. "The population is growing, and the result of that is you are being underserved."

GBHI was the second such facility to break ground in Georgetown. Rock Springs hospital, a 55,000-square-foot, 72-bed behavioral health facility located at 700 S.E. Inner Loop, broke ground in early 2013.

Both hospitals have plans to treat adolescents, adults, seniors and active-duty military members and veterans.

"As an organization, we believe that having a military-specific program would add additional resources for active-duty service members and their families," Rock Springs CEO Tom Kenny said.

Increased access

On average, one in five people in the United States has a mental health issue, and one in two people knows someone with a mental health issue, Bluebonnet Trails Executive Director Andrea Richardson said.

Founded in 1996, Bluebonnet Trails serves an eight-county region including Williamson County and works to serve children, adolescents and adults with serious mental illness or emotional and developmental disorders.

The organization opened a 48-hour observational unit Sept. 3

in the San Gabriel Crisis Center adjacent to the Crisis Respite Unit.

"For 48 hours we are able to take somebody on an involuntary basis into that unit, so that gives a breather for our Crisis Intervention Team and our Mobile Outreach Team to be in the community and be able to have somebody professionally observed," Richardson said.

In April Bluebonnet Trails opened two transitional houses in Georgetown to help ease the transition from hospitalization back into the community, Richardson said. A third home is expected to open in September.

"We kind of think of this as a continuum of care," Richardson said. "Once we have [the third transitional house] open, we know the flow from crisis respite will be easier to be handled in the community. If you can imagine not having a place to send somebody that's safe and that brings them back to the community, you are at a loss for getting them out of a crisis situation. It allows us to move that individual toward recovery on their own terms."

In 2012, Bluebonnet Trails worked with more than 5,000 people seeking mental health services, about 17 percent of whom came to the organization in crisis.

"Nobody anticipates when something like this may happen, just like a health issue," she said. "If you compare this to diabetes—a chronic issue—then it's the same thing. We just like to make sure people have an avenue where they can understand their illness better, be able to treat it on their own in their own way and to really understand that there is a road to recovery."