Austin State Hospital unveils new $305M facility

A small museum inside the Austin State Hospital is dedicated to the early days of what was once known as the Texas State Lunatic Asylum. A name change came in 1925, but a full makeover took much longer. 

"My belief is a measure of a society's success is the way they care for their most vulnerable people and today, in Central Texas, we measure up," said Dr. Stephen Strakowski, associate vice president for regional mental health at UT Austin's Dell Medical School. 

On Wednesday, a ribbon cutting was held for the Austin State Hospital’s brand-new facility. The 80-plus acre campus will now feature fully modernized amenities. 

For the first time, all clients will get their own room. Other spaces offer music and art therapy. The modernized building will allow for even better care and state-of-the-art treatments. Through a partnership with Dell Medical School, medical students will conduct psychiatry rotations at ASH.

"This is sort of the last stop. So many patients that have been at other facilities, either for forensic issues or for being treatment-refractory, end up at the state hospital. And those patients are very complicated patients. They either haven't responded to previous treatments, and they need a good look as to what's the diagnosis. Is there anything medically going on? Do they need to get brain imaging to uncover new findings?" said Charles Nemeroff, chair of the Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Dell Medical School. "And so we hope that by working together, we'll be able to reduce the length of stay, which has been a big problem in state hospitals."

Scott Schalchlin, deputy executive commissioner for the HHSC Health and Specialty Care System, called the design "patient-centered." The property boasts 11 courtyards, and property trees that were cut down were repurposed and used to build some of the furniture. The design of the hospital also focused on letting in natural light. 


"That may not seem like a lot, but actually it gets me emotional because of what it means, not only to the health of the people that will be here, but it's almost a symbol of the difference that we're making in people's lives because of the light that we're now going to bring into their lives," said Mayor Kirk Watson, who pushed to improve mental health facilities and care during his time in the State Senate.

State lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott approved the approximately $305 million in funding needed to construct the hospital. 

Austin State Hospital is the oldest psychiatric hospital in Texas. It offers inpatient mental health services to adults and youth throughout Central Texas.

"To see this new design and this new feature really puts Texas, in my opinion, on the forefront of modern care and psychiatry," said Schalchlin.