Sep 13, 2023

HHSC celebrates grand opening of $200 million Rusk State Hospital

Texas Health and Human Services Commission celebrated the grand opening of Rusk State Hospital, a $200 million project fully funded by Texas Legislature.

On Wednesday, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC) hosted a grand opening for Rusk State Hospital. With more than $1 billion designated by the state Legislature for a number of Texas hospitals, $200 million has been approved for the project in Rusk.

"I never thought I’d be standing here in Rusk, Texas, home of one of the most state-of-the-art state hospitals in the United States," said Sen. Robert Nichols.

The three-story, 227,368 square-foot patient complex includes a 100-bed non-maximum-security unit and an expanded 100-bed maximum security unit. The 200-bed unit will increase the number of maximum-security unit beds from 40 to 100. The hospital's overall capacity will stay the same, according to a press release by THHSC.

"The mental health of Texans remains a priority in Texas, which is why I made it an emergency item during the 2019 legislative session," said Governor Greg Abbott in a press release. "Texas has allocated more than $25 billion to support and expand mental health services across our state since I’ve been Governor, and the grand opening of the newly renovated Rusk State Hospital will help provide more mental health services to patients in East Texas. This updated facility, which has a long history of serving the Rusk community, will ensure the hospital can continue to serve Texans for many years to come. I thank the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for their work with local and community partners to oversee the construction of this new state-of-the-art facility."

The governor and the Texas Legislature have approved approximately $200 million in funding for the state hospital's construction since 2017.

"We are so excited to be here today with our elected officials, our state employees and community members to commemorate the opening of the new Rusk State Hospital," said Michelle Alletto, Chief Program & Services Officer for THHSC.

The 2023 Legislature also allocated $302 million for mental health community hospitals, $199.4 million for mental health state hospital operations and $83 million for community mental health grant programs in its recently passed biennial budget. Lawmakers said this will improve mental health services and bed capacity, particularly in rural parts of the state.

"I have to give the legislature and our governor credit for having this vision of a multi-year investment in our mental health system," Alletto said. "This is really a model and cornerstone for what we will be looking to do at other campuses and other facilities, to bring the most therapeutic and positive environment to the people we serve."

"This means a lot to not only the community but the staff and patients," said Scott Schalchlin, Deputy Executive Commissioner of THHSC. "That's what this work is all about. It makes a huge difference in what we do."

The approval in funding comes from investments of more than $1 billion from the Texas Legislature to replace and renovate other hospitals in Austin, Kerrville and San Antonio and a new hospital in Houston.

"Over the course of the facility's history, we’ve saved thousands and with new modern technology, we will save thousands more," Schalchlin said.

The hospital was established in 1919 and offers inpatient adult psychiatric services to people in 36 counties in East Texas.

"We’re excited to be able to offer our Rusk State Hospital patients care in a state-of-the art building that will help facilitate their recovery," said Cecile Erwin Young, executive commissioner of THHSC. "Thank you to those who invested in our state hospitals so that we can give our patients the help they need."

The hospital's design features include: a 50-seat theater for movies, fine arts performances and religious services; a music room for patients to experiment with instruments, fine-tune their skills and share their musical abilities with others; beauty salon/barber shop that will allow patients to socialize and discuss self-care while getting hair styled and cut; a library with books, computers and educational programming; a gym with basketball and volleyball courts, and a store to purchase food.

There is also a greenhouse where patients can learn how to nurture and grow plants, as well as a teaching kitchen to teach meal preparation and cooking.

Patients will be divided as either RIO — Recovery Intervention Outreach, non-maximum security, and Journey, maximum security patients.

There will be 100 of each, and they will never intersect with each other.

"It will be determined by the court of which patients would be considered manifestly dangerous and who is not," said Michelle Holman, program supervisor for THHSC, and acting tour guide for the grand opening. "Patients would have to pass through a review board as to whether they are deemed dangerous. They don't stay there forever… if they’re not exhibiting dangerous behavior and the court deems them as not manifestly dangerous, then they are put into RIO."

Located on 805 North Dickinson Drive in Rusk, the newly renovated state hospital will aim to focus on recovery instead of just being used as emergency housing for people who are experiencing a mental health or behavioral crisis.

"What we hope to see is shorter days, where people are getting to that therapeutic level faster, fewer injuries for staff and patients," Alletto said. "It's a beacon of hope for our facilities and our staff to continue coming to work everyday and serve, and see a facility like this and really know that the legislature and the governor is really behind the work they do to make a difference."

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