New medical facility in Harlingen opens its doors

    HARLINGEN — The newest medical facility in Harlingen opened its doors to visitors yesterday, one day before the serious business of admitting patients begins.

    Palms Behavioral Health, a $13 million, 94-bed psychiatric hospital, will help fill what mental health experts say is a woefully underserved medical need in the Rio Grande Valley.

    “Today is an incredible day for the Rio Grande Valley,” said Palms CEO Michael Sauceda, addressing 200 people outside the hospital at a morning ribbon-cutting and facility tour.

    “We’re going to have an opportunity to impact everyone in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Sauceda, a Harlingen native. “All the families that are dealing with mental health issues, the issues that for a long time did not have the resources we have today.

    “Strategic (Behavioral Health) and the Palms are a great testament to making the investment not only in the facility … but all the people who are coming through this building on a daily basis.”

    The new Harlingen hospital, located at 613 Victoria Lane, is part of an aggressive national expansion by Memphis-based Strategic Behavioral Health. By year’s end the parent company will operate a dozen psychiatric treatment hospitals in the United States.

    It also is a major addition to Harlingen’s growing importance as a regional medical treatment destination. Palms joins large hospitals Valley Baptist Medical Center, Harlingen Medical Center and the VA Health Care Center as the core of the city’s growing medical community.

    Jim Shaheen, CEO of Strategic Behavioral Health, said the facility was designed specifically for children, adolescents, adults and seniors suffering with mental health and substance abuse issues.

    “Taking care of mental health and substance abuse patients is not an easy job,” Shaheen said. “They’re not an easy population to deal with. But a group of compassionate and caring individuals who are trained and taught how to take care of these patients are going to be in this building.

    “We are here to help,” he said.

    That help has arrived in the form of a state-of-the-art hospital, heavy on earth tones with an eye on patient comfort and security.

    Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell noted the addition of the Palms facility continues the city’s growth as a regional medical destination.

    “Here today Palms Behavioral Center joins a big family of great health care facilities right here in the center of our health care district,” he said. “It really establishes this community as a true health care hub for this region.”

    The lack of mental health care in the region was front and center yesterday.

    Dr. Mary Dale Peterson, CEO of Driscoll Health Plan, said the Palms hospital will not just address an underserved community in the Rio Grande Valley, but will also serve as a teaching facility.

    “There is a critical crisis shortage of psychiatrists in our South Texas communities,” Peterson said.

    “If we were to be at the national average, we would have 54 child psychiatrists in the 24-county region,” she added. “Do you know how many we have? We have seven. So that shows you the need that’s out here.”

    State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. was praised by Shaheen and Sauceda as an early supporter of building the Palms hospital.

    “As you know South Texas has historically been a place of great need in many fields, and medical care is no exception,” Lucio said. “Throughout my childhood and adult life I have been disheartened to see my friends and neighbors struggle to find in Texas affordable health care.”

    Lucio said the establishment of South Texas’ first medical school, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, is leading South Texas into a new era of professional medical care.

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