HARLINGEN, RGV – Executives with Memphis, Tennessee-based Strategic Behavioral Health, LLC, say if it were not for Harlingen having progressive and accommodating leaders it would not be building a new hospital there.

The company held a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday for Palms Behavioral Health, a 72-bed acute behavioral health hospital that will be built on the corner of Hale Avenue and Victoria Lane in Harlingen.

The $12 million hospital, which is slated to open in late 2015, will bring 200-plus new jobs to the Rio Grande Valley.

“Mental health and substance abuse still carries a bit of a stigma and so most communities that are not particularly progressive might say, well, we do not have those kinds of problems here, we don’t need your kinds of services. Thank you but no thank you,” Jim Shaheen, president of Strategic Behavioral Health, told the Guardian.

“But, progressive communities realize these patients are languishing in the emergency department; that they are being sent out of the community for care. Once people recognize that, they recognize that something needs to be done. This community has done that.”

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Aug. 28 for Palms Behavioral Health, a 72-bed acute behavioral health hospital that will be built on the corner of Hale Avenue and Victoria Lane in Harlingen.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Aug. 28 for Palms Behavioral Health, a 72-bed acute behavioral health hospital that will be built on the corner of Hale Avenue and Victoria Lane in Harlingen.

Shaheen said the team at Palms Behavioral Health will consist of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and nurses with compassion to serve those who are struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety, grief/loss and personal crisis situations. He said the state-of-the-art 52,000 square foot hospital will offer program options to serve seniors, adults, children and adolescents both locally and throughout the state.

Palms Behavioral Health is the second psychiatric hospital to be built by Strategic Behavioral Health in Texas. The first, a 92-bed facility, was built in College Station. Shaheen said that as with the College Station facility, his company saw great demand in Harlingen and the Lower Rio Grande Valley for behavioral health services.

“We drew a map around Harlingen and saw a lack of inpatient psychiatric hospital beds. We came to the community and starting asking folks and the response was tremendous. We found a need for over 100 beds,” said Shaheen.

Shaheen singled out Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, Harlingen Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Raudel Garza and the local healthcare community for praise.

“Our team has recognized the need for inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services in South Texas and we are excited to expand our reach to the southern part of the state. As soon as we explained what we wanted to do they were very welcoming, both from the economic development and the city council, especially the healthcare community. We met with the hospitals. We met with the emergency rooms. They were all very welcoming. We just feel very blessed. We feel like this project will do very well with this community.”

Michael Garone, director of development for Strategic Behavioral Health, said the new Harlingen facility will provide behavioral health and chemical dependency service for children, adolescents, adults and seniors. Palm Behavioral Health will offer acute inpatient and outpatient programs in specialized, separate units, he said.

“It will be a state of the art, 72-bed facility on a 52,000 square foot, single story, facility. There will be three open courtyards, two classrooms, a gymnasium, a welcoming lobby, an on-site pharmacy, a private ambulance entrance, and on-site out-patient suites.”

Garone said it was “extremely easy to work with” Harlingen EDC. “Raudel Garza has a lot of integrity. He was very committed to making sure our needs were met,” Garone explained. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Garone also spoke about the great demand for inpatient beds.

“When you look at a market you look at those with over 300,000 people. Cameron County’s population is more than 400,000 and that does not even include the Snowbird population that comes down. We saw there was a major deficiency, particularly in Cameron County. Hidalgo County has two mental health facilities with over 200 beds. There are only 37 beds here in Cameron County, not including the state facility,” Garone said.

“So, we met with stakeholders such as school districts, law enforcement, and hospitals. We try to understand whether the data on the community translates into project feasibility and what we found, immediately, was that this community was extremely receptive to having additional resources. We are delighted to be here. It is unfortunate that a community this large does not have the resources it needs. Our hope is we can bring people home.”

Garza, of the Harlingen EDC, said he was delighted to be bringing a behavioral center to his city.

“Harlingen is happy with SBH’s announcement to open a new in-patient facility here; and is excited to have another great provider of much-needed services in the region. Strategic Behavioral Health’s new facility will save lives, and help reduce expenses to both the public sector and the families of those impacted by mental or behavioral illnesses by providing a facility closer to home,” Garza said.