Tarrant County is planning a new mental health hospital with as many as 300 beds – far more than currently available.
The exact cost and other details remain unclear but the money will come from a $800 million bond issue approved by voters on Tuesday.
The facility will likely be built on the campus of John Peter Smith Hospital south of downtown.
"I think there's an urgency to do the right thing with the money and be strategic how we utilize the funds,” said JPS Vice President Zelia Baugh. “It's not something that's going to happen overnight."
Mental health care professionals have long stressed the need for increased psychiatric care and point out the Tarrant County jail is now the largest provider of mental health services in Fort Worth. That’s the case in many counties across the country, they said.
"If you have a fully funded continuum of care for behavioral health, the hospital would be the end result, not the first and only intervention,” Baugh said. “And right now in Tarrant County, that's what we've got."
The county's emergency psychiatric unit is located on the 10th floor of JPS Hospital and sees about 20,000 patients a year, she said.
The focus of the new facility will be early intervention.
Experts note not all mental health patients are violent but the hope is to treat people who need help before they commit crimes.
"That's the aim,” said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. “Can you guarantee it? Of course not. We never know what is going to set someone off or send them over the edge."
Whitley said mental health care is often a long-term, life-long commitment.
“You may not cure it but you manage it and that's what we need to keep working on,” he said.
The new hospital will likely be built on what is now a doctor’s parking lot between the Trinity Springs Pavilion and JPS’s main facility, Baugh said.