September 22, 2015
I heard about two sisters — one was a veterinarian and the other a taxidermist. They went into business together and hung a big sign out front. The sign said: “Vet and Taxidermist. Either way, you get your dog back.”
The point of the story (at least the point I intend to make with such a warped little tale) is that they were both important to the success of the enterprise.
They grow up so fast
Four years ago this week, I laid out a vision of Austin achieving 10 goals in 10 years — what I’ve been calling “10in10ATX” — that would create a model healthy community and expand economic opportunity. Among those goals was a new medical school at the University of Texas at Austin. The progress on the Dell Medical School has been exciting, fun and amazing. I deeply appreciate the creative, brilliant work of the school’s inaugural dean, Dr. Clay Johnston, and the many others who are making this a wonderful reality.
And, of course, none of this would be happening without the voters of Travis County.
But 10in10ATX is about more than a medical school. There are other parts of the vision important to the success of this enterprise (if you’re doing your own math, there are 9, to be exact). The 10 goals in 10 years are about transforming healthcare for everyone in our community.
You can’t miss all that construction going on up there at 15th and Red River, where the medical school and a modern, 21st Century teaching and safety net hospital (also part of 10in10ATX) are being built. While less visible than all those buildings, our progress on other fronts has been pretty exciting and amazing, too.
Goal #7: Provide needed psychiatric care and facilities
It’s a sad fact that the Travis County jail is our largest mental health care provider. That’s why, for some time now, the focus has been on knitting together a safety net for folks in crisis to keep them out of jail and the emergency room and prevent long-term hospitalizations.
I heard during the run-up to 10in10ATX that what we really needed were more tools to keep people out of crisis. Healthcare providers such as Austin Travis County Integral Care, which offers community-based mental health services, and other community leaders said the key was to provide a full continuum of care to help people maintain recovery and improve overall health. That includes everything from diagnosis to treatment, crisis stabilization to peer support, emergency response to intensive wraparound services, from housing to integrated primary and behavioral health care.
It’s a tall order. But the combined effect of the momentum created by 10in10ATX and increased funding from Travis County voters, the state and philanthropy has allowed for new partnerships and programs and improved care and outcomes:
Last year, a psychiatric emergency department opened at University Medical Center Brackenridge. Unbelievably, it was the first psychiatric ER in our region. Now, patients experiencing a behavioral health crisis can get the specialized care they need in an appropriate setting and not sit in a traditional emergency department for hours, or even days, awaiting access to an appropriate facility.
Extended Observation Facility
An extended observation facility is under construction. It will help patients in crisis to stabilize and it will provide treatment for up to two weeks, with a goal of sending people home or referring them elsewhere for long-term care.
Healthy Communities Collaborative
This state-funded grant follows a Housing First model that gets people off the streets and then surrounds them with a full menu of supports. In just the first six months, community mental health facility visits have decreased 82% among those housed.
Sandra Joy Anderson Community Health and Wellness Center
Another of the 10in10ATX goals was to have “Uniquely Austin Clinics” to meet needs in specific communities. Well, Huston-Tillotson University, the Dell Medical School and Community Care are partnering on a mental health and wellness center at HT. This uniquely Austin clinic will be focused on addressing mental illness in low-income and underserved populations in the Austin area.
Expansion of Integrated Primary and Behavioral Health Care Services at Dove Springs
Another uniquely Austin clinic is Integral Care’s newest facility that’s offering a previously underserved population access to both primary and behavioral healthcare in one location. This helps to remove potential barriers experienced by people with concurrent medical and behavioral health conditions in order to provide the right care in the right place at the right time.
These are just a few of the many projects underway to help transform the lives of so many Central Texans living with behavioral health illnesses.
Wrong in a Good Way
As we crafted the 10in10ATX vision, I really worried that we couldn’t make significant progress in behavioral health because resources have been scarce for this area of healthcare and our community has historically been woefully underserved.
Well, here’s something you don’t hear me admit very often: I was wrong.
I’m so pleased to tell you that.