Rusk State Hospital funding addresses regional mental health needs

By Donna McCollum, Journalist, see the original KTRE story here.

RUSK, TX (KTRE) – Mentally ill offenders of the most heinous crimes are sent to Rusk State Hospital. Offenders of lesser crimes are sent there, too, if there’s room.

Burke Mobile Outreach Team Director Allison Horsley understands the demand for state mental health beds.

“The individuals Burke serves often go to places like Rusk,” Horsley said. “They haven’t been going to Rusk lately because there have been no beds. This past year alone, Burke spent over $1.2 million to provide beds for people who could not find a state contract bed.”

Angelina County mental health deputy Charlotte Griffith often drives to Houston and as far away as El Paso transporting mentally ill, sometimes psychotic, offenders.

“Sometimes they’re tearing that cage down in back, and we’re trying to carry them a long distance,” Griffith said. “Rusk would be great if we can get more beds there. That would help us tremendously.”

State Senator Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and State Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, secured $4.5 million to obtain plans for a 100-bed maximum security unit at Rusk. Rep. Clardy explained the need back in a June interview.

“It’s a really growing problem,” Clardy said. “And you hear that from your mayors, your hospital administrators, your sheriffs and your jailers.”

Those people are still a fraction of legislators’ overall constituency, so mental health advocates applaud the $300 million approved to construct new state-funded inpatient psychiatric facilities and repair the ones that exist.

“There’s a majority of mentally ill people who do not commit crimes and they need places to go,” Horsley said. “If they do make bad decisions and wind up behind bars, they still deserve our compassion.”

Construction on the maximum-security unit at Rusk could begin as early as 2019. The last unit of its kind at Rusk was built six years ago.

An additional $4.5 million was secured to begin planning to replace 100 non-maximum-security beds.