For a decade now, the Waco Tribune-Herald has strongly advocated for expansion of state mental-health hospital beds, not only to better address a problem far more prevalent in society than many of us might realize but also to relieve a major burden placed on long-suffering law enforcement agencies and hospital emergency-room staffs. Our humble efforts have gone hand-in-hand with striking research by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute for Texas, which has laid down the foundation for solving mental-health problems statewide.
Given the enormity of problems, we praise Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus for signifying this legislative session that mental-health services must at last be a priority. We especially praise Republican state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson and Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Charles Smith for smartly jumping on a generous proposal from Baylor Scott & White — Hillcrest offering up North Waco’s old, abandoned but fit Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center as part of the big solution.
As Trib staffer Tommy Witherspoon reported, Anderson, Smith and Baylor Scott & White — Hillcrest President Glenn Robinson are pushing an innovative plan to help free up hospital beds at other state mental-health facilities by converting Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center into a centrally located, state-run, 339-bed mental-health hospital for transitional patients successfully treated and poised for re-entry into society.
Baylor Scott & White is offering the facility — nine floors, 600,000 square feet and 14 acres of land — for an absurdly low price of $975,000. (You can do the math to figure out square-footage cost on this deal.) We see this not only as a major stride in terms of expanding mental-health beds statewide but fulfillment of Baylor Scott & White — Hillcrest’s commendable commitment to keep the old campus and surrounding neighborhood vital after most of the hospital staff moved to new facilities at Interstate 35 and State Highway 6.
State legislators have approved funding for the hospital purchase and a study of costs for renovating the facility for mental-health treatment. As Anderson told the Trib, the real battle comes in 2019 when the Texas Legislature must approve $65 million to actually renovate the Hillcrest facility. Anderson assures us that state Sen. Brian Birdwell is behind the project and that Rep. Kyle Kacal, who represents part of our county, is being kept up to date.
Acknowledging the anxiety that must come when statewide needs are great and tax revenue is tight, the prospect for renewed use of old Hillcrest nonetheless should hearten Wacoans — and not just because this project would be a shot in the arm for the resilient North Waco neighborhood around it; the professional staff it promises to produce in the next decade; and the jobs it could create locally, but also because it’s a major step forward in helping some of the most vulnerable among us. As Robinson noted, half of us will one day experience some sort of mental-health episode. And for the rest of us, that means needing pivotal help at a time of crisis for our loved ones.