AUSTIN, Nexstar — As lawmakers prepare to return to the Texas State Capitol this month, many local communities want the legislature to invest heavily in mental health resources.
Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner handles mental health cases in more than 20 rural counties around the Texas Panhandle, as well as in the county seat of Amarillo. Tanner says she handled more than 5,000 cases during her tenure, but the mental hospital closest to her voters is more than 200 miles away.
“I can tell you some sad, sad stories,” she said. is.”
She said only about one in five people in need of mental health care ended up in a state hospital among the cases she handled. In many cases, they are released without proper care and end up back in the system, Tanner added.
“There are never any beds available,” she said. “We just have a backlog with the same people.”
At a press conference last month, Lieutenant Dan Patrick estimated that of Texas’ approximately 2,500 psychiatric beds, at least 1,000 were empty due to a shortage of nursing staff. identified access to local mental health as one of its top priorities.
“I’ve traveled through the states and I’ve seen the need,” said Patrick. “There are no mental health facilities in the Panhandle, so I am proposing to build one there. This is what we must do for our community.”
He estimates that plans to add a new state hospital in Amarillo and add hundreds of beds to existing locations will cost $2.2 billion. He specifically advocated for more beds in El Paso, 300 more in Wichita Falls and Terrell, and 140 more in the Rio Grande Valley.
Patrick also proposed new investments in tuition compensation and salary increases to address the shortage of nurses.
In Kingsville, Dr. Steve Bain of the Institute for New Rural Mental Health Initiatives said priority should be given to graduate programs that train new mental health professionals and encourage placement in rural communities. The Texas A&M Board of Trustees approved the institute as the first center for rural mental health research and education this November.
“Our state ranks very low in providing mental health resources, especially to people in remote areas,” Bain said. not, it takes time and organization through our institutes, it costs research and research, and we need to place graduate students who need apprenticeships and internships in these rural communities. .”
In testimony at Texas House, Bain told lawmakers that one in five children in Texas has a mental disorder. Between 2019 and her 2021, the Texas Poison Control Network has seen a 50% increase in calls about a teenage girl’s suspected suicide.
“We are setting a precedent in the history of our state where great leaders like you can make a difference to children, their families, and those who are committed to the overall success of young Texans. “With your help, we can and must expand local mental health programs.”
Tanner said he was optimistic that the session would bring tangible improvements.
“Lt. Patrick said there was money in the budget,” she said, adding that the Senate Finance Committee was “very open” to her proposal for the Amarillo Mental Hospital.Amarillo Area Foundation has already donated 7 acres of land for this facility. This makes sense, she said, along with students from a local medical school at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
“I hope so. Getting this done before I leave here will be my greatest adventure and my greatest success as a judge,” she said. .