Expanded mental health center to open here

HARLINGEN — The Rio Grande Valley’s limited treatment options for people with mental health issues led to a decision by Strategic Behavior Health to tear up its construction plans and enlarge the hospital it already is building in Harlingen.

SBH, based in Memphis, was well along in the construction of a 72-bed facility at 613 Victoria Lane. Now, the plan is for a $13 million, 94-bed facility that is expected to open by Oct. 1.

Landing the new medical facility is a major addition to the city’s growing importance as a health care center in the region. Valley Baptist Medical Center and Harlingen Medical Center are the major hospitals already in the city.

The decision by SBH to build a facility in Harlingen also was a major accomplishment for the Harlingen Economic Development Corp. New medical facilities may not be National Football League franchises, but the competition between cities for these hospitals can be pretty intense.

“When we heard SBH was looking around, and they were looking in Cameron County from Brownsville to Harlingen, we put together a package we thought was going to be enticing enough without giving away the farm for them to say, ‘Hey, let’s look at this,’” said Raudel Garza, CEO of the Harlingen economic development agency.

“We also knew we had some assets,” Garza said in an interview last week. “We’ve got the state facility, we’ve got two large hospitals, Valley Baptist being the largest, and you’ve got this kind of burgeoning health care sector … that’s going on in Harlingen.

“Brownsville may be bigger than us, but we’ve got a lot more health care, I think. That’s attractive to the hospital.”

SBH, a privately held company, has had a very strong growth curve since its founding in 2006. The hospital company has nine behavioral health centers in six states. One, Rock Prairie Behavioral Health, is located in Texas in College Station.

The new Palm Behavioral Health in Harlingen, and Willow Creek Behavioral Health in Green Bay, Wis., will open their doors for business in 2016.

Palm Behavioral Health center will employ 225 people once it begins operation. Those positions will be particularly valuable in the Valley, Garza said.

“Health care in general is a big plus for us. It brings in jobs, and they’re usually high-paying jobs with high skills that usually require more education.

“That’s what everyone says they want: We want higher-paying jobs with a better-educated workforce, and health care is one of the main targets for us,” Garza added.

Providing the educational infrastructure to fill those jobs is a strength in the Valley now, Garza said.

“We’ve had constant conversations with not only hospital administrators but educators about the need for medical students, or medical field-related occupations,” he said.

“There are several different schools out there that have private vocational nursing training programs. There are others, even Valley Baptist has its own nursing program, (Texas State Technical College) has a program (South Texas College) has a program, (the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) has bachelor’s and master’s programs in nursing.

“A lot of the allied health-type training is there.”

Garza concedes that hiring medical professionals is one thing. Keeping them in the Valley can be another.

“There’s a nursing shortage throughout the country. So a lot of times some of the nurses get educated down here but they move further north. There’s a lot of competition between the different health care facilities for nursing, especially skilled nurses.”

Garza said the wet weather over the past few months and the design change of the Palm Behavioral Center combined to push back the opening of the facility.

“They started from scratch with the design change, but we’re happy with that.

“Ten months in the grand scheme of things is a very short time period.”

Strategic Behavioral Health LLC Locations

* Peak Behavioral Health, Santa Teresa, N.M.

* Rock Prairie Behavioral Health, College Station, Texas

* Montevista Hospital, Las Vegas

* Strategic Behavioral Center, Charlotte, N.C.

* Strategic Behavioral Center, Raleigh, N.C.

* Strategic Behavioral Center, Wilmington, N.C.

* Red Rock Behavioral Hospital, Las Vegas

* Peak View Behavioral Health, Colorado Springs, Colo.

* Clear View Behavioral Health, Johnstown, Colo.

* Health centers under construction

* Palms Behavioral Health, 613 Victoria Lane, Harlingen (Oct. 1)

* Willow Creek Behavioral Health, Green Bay, Wis. (Summer 2016)