Will inmates move near senior center?

RAYMONDVILLE — A retirement center might also become home to a new state program aimed at treating mentally-ill patients now held in jails.

The owners of La Jarra Ranch Senior Living have applied for a $300,000 state grant to launch the program that stems from last year’s passage of Texas House Bill 13.

The new law would earmark money to create community-based mental health care programs to treat mentally-ill patients currently held in jails.

Fred Ballard, a co-owner of the retirement center that opened late last year, said the program would be the first of its kind in Texas.

“We feel like we’re blazing new territory,” Ballard said Friday.

Ballard said the program would house patients in a 16-bed, 5,000-square-foot building that stands 100 to 200 yards from the retirement center currently housing six elderly residents.

A 6-foot-tall privacy fence separates the two buildings, he said.

“It is a secure facility,” Raymond Wetegrove said. “There’s a double-lock system so people can’t wonder in and out.”

Ballard said the staff would supervise the unit all day, seven days a week.

The patients would be separated from the retirees.

The new program would hire a 40-member staff made up of such health care workers as nurses and counselors to run the unit on the Wetegrove family’s historic ranch about a mile east of Raymondville on State Highway 186, Ballard said.

Ballard, who co-owns the center with local businessmen Joe and Raymond Wetegrove, said grant money would help fund housing for about 16 mentally-ill patients.

“The program created by the state Legislature is at its core a jail diversion program, but let us be clear — the future residents of our new facility are not criminals,” Ballard stated.

Ballard said many who suffer mental illness are being held in jails on minor charges such as trespassing and disorderly conduct.

A psychiatrist would screen patients to assure they are not aggressive and non-violent, Ballard said.

“They may have been placed in jail due to behavioral issues at a point in time because there was no appropriate place for treatment — until now,” Ballard stated.

Where would they go?

Ballard said the patients would be housed in a building originally planned as the retirement center’s memory care unit.

“There will be no co-mingling of the population,” Ballard said.

Ballard said the $300,000 grant funded through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission would help pay for the patients’ room and board.

La Jarra, which is working with Houston-based Inspired Behavioral Health, has agreed to add $150,000 to the grant money.

By July, Ballard expects the state to notify him as to whether the state would fund the grant.

Through Medicaid, the state would reimburse the local program.

The future

Ballard said plans to expand the program include constructing a 5,000-square-foot building farther from the retirement center.

The program could impact thousands of mentally-ill inmates across Texas.

“It’s a big issue in Texas jails right now,” Maj. Ernie Garcia, who oversees the Willacy County Jail, said Friday.

Why it’s important

In the county Jail, as much as 20 to 30 percent of the population is made up of mentally-ill inmates, Ballard said.

“We’re optimistic about it,” said Garcia, who supervises a jail population of about 60 inmates. “Instead of being placed in jail, the person is on a faster track to getting the mental health care they need.”

How we got here

For years, Joe Wetegrove planned the retirement center on the 500-acre ranch passed down by his great-great-grandfather Edward Burleson Raymond, founder of Raymondville.

Meanwhile, county leaders have been counting on the retirement center to create jobs in this farming area struggling with double-digit jobless rates.

The retirement center currently employees a 38-member staff, Ballard said.

La Jarra Ranch Senior Living

Opened late 2017

Houses six residents

Employs 38-staff

Texas House Bill 13

Passed in 2017

state Legislature

Earmarks funding

to treat mentally ill