January 8, 2018
Keen readers of the Watson Wire will remember that I’ve talked about creating something that I called the “MD Anderson of the Brain” on the campus of the Austin State Hospital or, as it’s generally known, ASH.
Well, I’m proud to report that it’s happening.
On Monday, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced that the $15.5 million redesign of the Austin State Hospital has been approved as part of the state’s Comprehensive Inpatient Mental Health Plan. This planning money was something I championed along with others like Senator Charles Schwertner as part of the budget we passed during the last legislative session.
The Dell Medical School at UT Austin will lead the redesign effort in concert with community brain health leaders from throughout the broad, multi-county ASH service area. The group will craft a master plan to bring to the Legislature in 2019 as part of a six-year commitment to rebuild the five state hospitals that have been deemed unsalvageable, including Austin State Hospital.
The master plan will address the entire continuum of brain health care. When people think of brain care at this facility, which we’ve been calling the Texas Brain Health Center, we want them to see it in the same light as they do when they think about what MD Anderson is for cancer care and the Cleveland Clinic is for cardiac care.
Texas Brain Health Center
I’ve often said that Dr. Steve Strakowski, the inaugural chair of the psychiatry department at Dell Med and the interim director of the Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences, is a rock star because of his reputation as a national leader in health strategy and transformation.
But it wasn’t until last fall that I learned that he’s actually a genuine rock star. Here he is on bass with his wife on keyboards playing at last year’s local National Alliance on Mental Illness fundraising walk.
Dr. Strakowski will be the leading, well, brain behind the design of this fantastic center. We were already having conversations about how to bolster our mental health safety net system and the role that ASH might play before Dr. Strakowski came to town in 2016. In fact, enhancing brain health care was one of my 10 goals in 10 years and we were making progress. But Dr. Strakowski brings us an incredible expertise and vision that will drive what will ultimately happen on the ASH campus.
As I said, that vision covers the whole continuum of mental health care. Right now, our system primarily helps people when they’re in crisis and often in the emergency room or jail, the most costly and ineffective places to improve health. We want the Texas Brain Health Center to provide the right help at the right time for folks, regardless of their ability to pay, and to keep them out of crisis.
The Texas Brain Health Center will serve everyone and make a difference in the lives of those living with mental illness as well as their families. This could not be possible without Dr. Strakowski and Dell Medical School.
The medical school was first on my list of 10 Goals in 10 Years in part because it would drive the systemic change needed to foster better health throughout our community. It’s still pretty new, but the community investment in the medical school is producing results beyond simply more of the same old medical aid and hospital care provided in the same old way and in the same old facilities. It’s transformational. The investment gives us things like this — the Texas Brain Health Center — a historic change in brain health care, aid and services.
This simply couldn’t and wouldn’t happen without the medical school.