Mental illness treatment in the Valley

Years back, in the late 1980s, when there was ample treatment facilities in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, and adequate funding to match, I came back to my Valley home after serving the State of Texas as a mental health clinical director in Southwest Texas.

I developed, and worked in not less than five different treatment facilities in the Valley, and then the funding for these services began to dry up, leading to the closure of the major services for treatment of our mentally ill…with the exception of the Rio Grande State Center where I enjoyed 12 years of my 23 years of State employment.

During that period, the Charter Hospital System, operating Charter Palms Hospital for mental illness and addictions, came under bankruptcy closing the majority of their 88 hospitals across the nation. Rio Grande State Center was the only residential treatment facility left to treat the person with mental illness.

Then, due to the intelligent, foresight of professionals in the fields of Mental Illness and Substance abuse, and passage of the varying Parity Laws, which relaxed payment for mental illness and substance abuse by the various insurance groups (to include Medicaid and Medicare); treatment facilities began a comeback, and now enjoy a resurgence of treatment facilities in our Valley Communities to supplement the Rio Grande State Center’s 55 beds; beginning with Valley Baptist Behavioral Health in Brownsville with 37 beds; the South Texas Behavioral Health Center in Edinburg, with 134 beds; the 88 bed Behavioral Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg; Origins Recovery Center at South Padre Island; and the newly opened 93 bed Palms Behavioral Health facility in Harlingen.

Long serving advocates for increased mental health and substance residential facilities in the Valley, such as myself, are now most pleased that there appears to be adequate services for individuals and their families who suffer from the various diagnosis of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse/Addictions (or have a dual-diagnosis of both). Even with this increase in treatment facilities, statistics tell us that we are still lacking.

One of the measurements of Mental Health treatment in our Nation and our State are the number of beds provided for treatment. The National Institute of Mental Health tells us that in the United States, 50 beds per 100,000 population is considered necessary for individuals with severe mental illness. Texas ranks number 41 of the 50 States in this, with only 8.5 beds per 100,000. With a current Texas State population of 20.1 million, the persons with a severe mental illness now number 221,000 for Schizophrenia and 442,000 with Bipolar Disorder.

If we were to include Major Depressive Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, etc., we see that number increase dramatically. If we extrapolate the numbers of persons with mental illness in our Valley Communities, which now number in excess of 1 million persons; you will find that we only fair adequately for in-patient treatment services.

What is most dramatic, and worth heeding, is the number of Psychiatrist’s available within our Valley communities to treat individuals with mental illness; most essential in diagnosing and medication management of the mentally ill person. In the United States there are 13.7 Psychiatrists per 100,000 of the population. In the State of Texas this number is 6.59 per 100,000. In the Rio Grande Valley this number decreases dramatically to 2.8 Psychiatrists per 100,000; with around 30 Psychiatrists in the entire Valley area.

If we look at essential mental health clinicians; to include educated and experienced Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselors, Psychologists, etc.; we find that the Valley is also sorely lacking. The lack of trained, dedicated, and experienced clinicians has a most profound effect on the quality and quantity of mental health care that we provide our population; to include our growing number of War Veterans.

This is well known among the professional treatment community, and action is being taken to address these issues, such as the implementation of a Psychiatric Program at the University of Texas Health Science Center in our metroplex area. The advanced, specialized University program in psychiatry hopefully will produce graduating Psychiatrists who are willing to stay in the Rio Grande Valley Communities to help in reducing the service gap.

Hiring and keeping professionals employed in the Rio Grande Valley treatment facilities for the mentally ill has always been a problem due to the socio-economic and other factors of our Valley. Psychiatry graduates, as with most professionals, will tend to gravitate toward the larger cities of our State; such as Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio (or to Northern States); where wages are higher and other life-chances for family are much higher (higher rated public schools, etc.).

And, transversely, professionals from other parts of the state and the nation are reluctant to take a job in the Rio Grande Valley for the same reasons given.

With our Valleys seemingly perpetual problems, such as low levels of education, poverty, high unemployment and unhealthy life styles (as example, the Valley area is among the highest alcohol consuming areas within the United States which often leads to problems); an environment of high risk for mental health and substance abuse problems exists. Having chosen to work as a professional in the fields of mental health and substance abuse, with many years service to our Valley population, most specifically with the indigent population, providing them a handup; with dedication toward the care, treatment, and improvement of our citizenry; I am very much aware of the needs that are present.

I most welcome the positive changes taking place, and I always maintain faith and hope that ever increasing improvements are coming our way. I especially would that the new Palms Behavioral Center be most successful in their endeavors, that they develop an aggressive out-reach to those individuals in need. One in two people in our population are affected by mental illness and substance abuse; so I know that many of you share my same thoughts. Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!