State Sen. Kirk Watson speaks at the July 23 rededication of the historic headquarters building on the Austin State Hospital campus.

State Sen. Kirk Watson speaks at the July 23 rededication of the historic headquarters building on the Austin State Hospital campus.

Building 501, the historic headquarters of the Austin State Hospital, known as “Old Main,” has a newly restored facade, and it is just the start of big plans for the campus.

Built in 1857, the building is the anchor of the 80-acre campus’s 38 buildings. While the main building is used as office space in modern times, the hospital admits 850 patients a year who need psychiatric help.

At the July 23 rededication of the historic landmark, officials talked about the need to fit form to function with new buildings as part of the Texas Health and Human Services’ master plan.

In partnership with the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School, HHS will replace some buildings at ASH with a new 240-bed, state-of-the-art facility.

Despite the physical changes going on around the campus, one thing remains constant — the dedication of staff.

“How care is delivered changes over time,” Alan Isaacson, ASH’s superintendent, told the crowd that came to rededicate the building after renovations to the porch and northwest entrance were completed. “The people providing the care are the most important element.”

The Legislature is committed to improving mental health care in Texas, allocating $460 million last session for planning, new construction and renovation of state hospitals and state supported living centers, state Sen. Kirk Watson said.

Tim Bray, HHS associate commissioner for state hospitals, said the issues haven’t changed much.

“The early 20th century saw the same issues,” Bray said. “Not enough staff, aging facilities, using the criminal justice system. We still face those challenges and we can still address them through dedicated and persistent professional staff.”

The new construction will move Texas’s physical buildings into the 21st century, said Stephen Strakowski, chair of Dell Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry.

“We’re prepared now to make some changes and do things better,” he said.

Maintaining historical continuity is important, said Amanda Flores, a state hospital system planning specialist. Flores said HHS will work with historical societies.

“If you look at this campus, you’ll see the architecture traces this history of best practices,” Flores said. “All the new construction will continue that trend, while respecting the historical value of the site.”

To learn more about updates to the state hospital system, visit the HHS Changes to the State Hospital System webpage.