View of John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center

Bridging the mental health workforce gap

When the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center at UTHealth Houston opened its doors to patients in March 2022, it widened the scope of clinical offerings from McGovern Medical School.

The 264-bed facility serves a 29-county area and is a collaboration among UTHealth Houston, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and the Texas Medical Center. The new hospital and UTHealth Houston Harris County Psychiatric Center comprise the UTHealth Houston Behavioral Sciences Campus – the largest academic behavioral health sciences campus in the United States.

Now the university is looking to further expand its behavioral health impact by creating its seventh school – the School of Behavioral Health Sciences. With one-third of Texas’ state hospital beds closed due to the lack of behavioral health workforce, the school aims to create a robust pipeline of mental health providers.

“New buildings and facilities are wonderful, but we have to have trained clinicians and staff to fulfill our mission to the community,” said Jair Soares, MD, PhD, the Pat R. Rutherford, Jr. Chair in the Louis A. Faillace, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and The University of Texas System Board of Regents, the school plans to offer 35 new degree and certificate programs in such areas as advanced clinical psychology, psychiatry technician, behavioral health nursing, and chemical dependency.

“The workforce needs in behavioral health are very pressing,” Soares said. “Not only in the field of psychiatry but also related disciplines. For that reason, it made a lot of sense for our leadership here at UTHealth Houston to develop a full-fledged new school under the UTHealth Houston banner that will bring together colleagues from various disciplines and develop a very broad menu of graduate and post-graduate offerings.”

The new school builds upon the rich offerings in clinical care, research, and training programs provided by the Faillace Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, which oversees operations of the UTHealth Houston Behavioral Sciences Campus. The faculty provides specialty care at UT Physicians and Harris Health outpatient clinics, inpatient care at UTHealth Houston Behavioral Sciences Campus, telehealth care for school districts across Texas as part of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, inpatient telehealth services to 15 hospitals, and outpatient services to five mental health authorities across the state.

“Here in the Texas Medical Center, you can really leverage collaborations in cutting-edge research and continue to train the next generation,” said Soares, vice president of Behavioral Sciences at UTHealth Houston. “We hope that in due time, the Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center will be for the field of behavioral health, what MD Anderson Cancer Center has been to the field of oncology.”

The Texas Legislature recently provided much-needed support to UTHealth Houston’s behavioral health programs, including $12 million for a new traumafocus program for children in custody of Texas Child Protective Services who are suffering from serious mental health issues. The Successful Transitions for Adolescents Recovery Trajectories (START) program is an intensive psychiatric stabilization program.

“We’ve seen a big rise in mental health conditions among our kids. We want to provide care for everyone who needs mental health services in our community,” said Lokesh Shahani, MD, PhD, MPH, associate professor of psychiatry and medical director of the Dunn Center.

The Dunn Center also received operational support from the Legislature with an increase in funding for its per bed/day rate – about $11 million in additional funds that will help close the funding gap between the cost of care and the amount historically received. The Legislature approved nearly $8 million for much-needed renovations to the UTHealth Houston Harris County Psychiatric Center.

“Throughout this session, our elected officials validated the need and importance of UTHealth Houston’s work in behavioral health,” said Scott Forbes, senior vice president of Governmental Relations. “The overall budget strategy that includes the funding for all community mental health hospitals had an increase of over $300 million for the biennium.


See this VIDEO for more details on how McGovern Medical School supports mental health in our community: