Preserving the old, making way for the new: Rusk State Hospital’s $200 millon renovation begins

by Cristin Parker

City, county and state officials – including HHS Executive Commissioner Dr. Courtney N. Phillips -- put the ‘dig’ in dignitaries Tuesday, Nov. 12, as they officially broke ground on the $200 million construction project at Rusk State Hospital.

Texas Health and Human Services (HHS) is building a new 225,000-square-foot patient complex that will include a 100-bed non-maximum security unit and a 100-bed maximum security unit. This project will also include the construction of a new administrative building.

A reception kicking off the event was held Tuesday morning at Citizens 1st Bank. Rusk Mayor Angela Raiborn presented keys to the city to Phillips; Rep. Travis Clardy and Sen. Robert Nichols, both of whom were instrumental in securing state funds for the hospital project; HHS Deputy Executive Commissioner Mike Maples; and HHS Associate Commissioner Tim Bray.

City officials and community members toured the administrative building during a town hall meeting held Thursday, Nov. 7.

RSH Assistant Superintendent Megan Lankford welcomed the crowd and assured those who attended the town hall meeting project officials have worked with the architects and continue to work with the Texas Historical Commission and the Heritage Center of Cherokee County to make sure the hospital’s history is preserved and commemorated as they make way for the new buildings.

“We are truly blessed to be a part of this community and we know there’s a lot of history in all the buildings on this campus,” she said. “The officials designing the new buildings have toured these buildings and we feel like they understand and appreciate the importance of keeping that history alive for future generations.”

The Texas Legislature approved funding for the construction of modern facilities to replace outdated buildings at the hospital. The construction projects at Rusk State Hospital are part of the $745 million Texas is investing to revitalize and transform several state psychiatric hospitals.

“The dream of providing modern mental health care and treatment in state-of-the-art facilities is about to become a reality. And there could be no finer location, nor better legacy to build upon, than that of the Rusk State Hospital,” Rep. Travis Clardy said in a statement included in a release from the HHS.

HHS worked with The University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Sustainable Development on developing a design for hospitals that can support modern mental health care and make it easier for providers to offer patients the best care possible. Primary design features include single-person rooms, the use of natural light throughout patient rooms and common areas, and outdoor spaces to promote recovery and healing.

“We’re proud of the connection our community has had to the hospital for 100 years and we’re thrilled Rusk is going to continue to be a place where people heal,” Rusk City Manager Jim Dunaway said. “Along with being a great partner, the hospital is our largest employer which benefits the entire city of Rusk.”

This project is expected to create several hundred construction jobs in the local community. Rusk State Hospital will continue to serve patients while construction is ongoing.

The new buildings will be located on the existing 623-acre campus. Construction is expected to be completed in 2024.

Rusk State Hospital opened its doors in 1919 and provides acute inpatient psychiatric care for adults from 36 counties in East Texas. The hospital served 563 patients in fiscal year 2019.