AP NEWS
Click to copy
Click to copy

New state hospital urgently needed in Bexar

Express-News Editorial BoardMay 18, 2019

The San Antonio State Hospital campus is a pastoral oasis in the heart of the city’s South Side.

Hints of healing can be found throughout this sprawling campus. It can be seen in photographs from generations ago showing patients doing arts and crafts. It can be felt in the vast, rolling green space that curves and slopes across hundreds of acres.

There was a time when patients grew their own food here and even ran a dairy farm. But that was long ago, and the pervasive feeling on the campus is a sad and forgotten stillness. People brought here for needed mental health treatment in many ways are out of sight and out of mind by those not working here, and so are the decrepit and aged buildings.

The food service building was built in 1918. The newest buildings came along in the early 1970s. Patient rooms we viewed on a recent tour were dark and barren. There is a lack of natural light. Patients share rooms — four to a room — so there is a lack of privacy. It’s hard to imagine any of this benefiting healing and restoration.

All of this could change if state lawmakers approve $320 million in funding for a new hospital on this campus. One that would house patients in smaller units that include private rooms and common space. One with appropriate space for exercise and occupational therapy.

The 296-room hospital would not resolve the perpetual psychiatric bed crisis in Bexar County. There are never enough beds, so people in crisis often end up in hospitals or languishing in the Bexar County Adult Detention Center’s mental health unit, an utterly depressing place where inmates live in barren cells for 23 hours as they wait for space at the San Antonio State Hospital.

A new hospital won’t solve the backlog, but it would be a crucial step forward for Bexar County and greater South Texas. San Antonio State Hospital doesn’t just serve Bexar County. It receives patients from 55 counties with a coverage area that stretches south to Brownsville and Corpus Christi, west to Del Rio and north of San Antonio.

These patients are either civil commitments, defendants whose competencies must be restored or people found not guilty for reasons of insanity and then ordered to an institutional setting.

One of the selling points of a new hospital is a design that reflects best-known practices for healing, which should shorten stays for some patients and thereby help address the backlog of beds, said Robert Arizpe, the hospital’s superintendent.

But this isn’t the only selling point. Many of the buildings on the west end of the 300-acre campus would be consolidated into the new hospital. As things stand now, the food service building, which, again, is more than 100 years old, is separate from the main hospital units. So is a building that serves adolescents.

Consolidation would make for greater efficiency, but it also would open the door for future psychiatric care on the campus. For example, Tim Bray, an associate commissioner with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said he could envision opening the west end of campus for some type of outpatient partnership to help people with moderate mental health needs — people who aren’t in full-blown crises but need stabilization. Another idea is developing independent housing to serve former patients who have stabilized but may not be ready to truly be off-campus.

A new hospital would build on an $11 million renovation project at that campus that will add 40 psychiatric beds, and it falls in line with a broader plan to add hundreds of additional beds at various state hospitals over coming years.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this project to San Antonio and South Texas. A new hospital is overdue and desperately needed.

Bexar County’s delegation needs to get this across the finish line.

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.