History of Rio Grande State Center (RGSC)

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Rio Grande State Center (RGSC) opened in October, 1962 as the Harlingen Adult Mental Health Clinic in a line shack just off the runway of the Harlingen airbase. Initially, there were six staff members who provided follow-up care to individuals released from San Antonio State Hospital.

In 1963, the center moved into the abandoned Harlingen airbase hospital building, and in 1965 the name was changed to Harlingen State Mental Health clinic. By that time, the center had expanded to include day services for people up to 80 years old with a wide range of mental health and chemical addiction problems.

In-patient services with 20 mental health beds were included in 1968. The center also began to offer alcoholism and drug abuse treatment services. The following year, the center established outreach centers and clinics in key cities in the service area and the name was changed to RIO GRANDE STATE CENTER.

In 1972, the center added 130 beds for mental retardation residential services with the opening of two dorms on the campus of the South Texas Hospital. Patients came from all over the state. The residents participated in Adult Education and Independent Living Skills training on campus and Special Education in public schools. Residents participated in the Special Olympics, Jaycees, Girls Scouts, and Boy Scouts of America. Volunteer Services Council organized in 1964 donated a one-bedroom apartment building named after state representative Menton Murray, Sr., to RGSC so families from out-of-town could come visit and have a place to stay overnight. The Menton Murray, Sr. Clubhouse is presently used by residents 55 years and over as the Retirement Program. The Volunteer Services Council went on to later build a swimming pool, a nature park and a pavilion for all the residents. Intellectual Disabilities Services presently offers 110 residential beds certified by Intermediate Care Facilities for Mental Retardation and Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Many of the residents after intensive independent living skills training graduated into group homes in the community.

In Sept. 1989, a 15-bed Transitional Living Unit was opened. The unit provided extended service for adults prior to their transferred to group home or back into the community. This unit primarily served adults with chemical dependency and was closed in 1994.

RGSC was responsible for Community Based Services in the five northern counties of our service area. Satellite outpatient clinics were located in Kingsville, Alice, San Diego and Falfurrias. These clinics were separated from RGSC in 1996; however, RGSC continues to provide services to those counties.

July 1991 found the facility opening a new building to provide in-patient mental health services, adjacent to South Texas Hospital. This building named "Wayne Potter Memorial Building" in 2004 now accommodates two in-patient treatment units for persons with mental health illness for adults, psychologists, social services, nursing services, and admission offices. Art work from discharged patients decorates the conference room.

In 1998, RGSC converted 20 adult mental health services beds in Edinburg to a 15-bed adolescent unit for individuals age 12-17. This unit was closed in 2001 due to lack of funding.

RGSC is one of nine state mental health facilities within the then TDMHMR system. RGSC serves an 8 county area for inpatient mental health services, and provides long term residential care and active treatment to persons with intellectual disabilities in a 12-county area. Admissions to the RGSC comply with the provisions of the Texas Mental Health Code and/or Mental Retardation Act, and as such, may be on a voluntary or involuntary basis. RGSC is in the heart of one of the most economically depressed and medically under-served areas in the United States. The 8-county area served by RGSC has a population that is 83% Hispanic, 16% Anglo, and 1% other ethnic groups. The catchment area is approximately 10,000 square miles. RGSC currently employs approximately 366 employees.

Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation came to an end August 31, 2004 as a result of HB 2292. As a result, the facility consolidated services with South Texas Hospital, which was then the Texas Department of Health, and the name changed to Rio Grande State Center/South Texas Health Care System.

South Texas Hospital History

When the Harlingen State Tuberculosis Hospital opened its doors in 1956 there were no outpatient services. Tuberculosis was a disease that required hospitalization and a quarantine that kept the highly contagious patients away from the general population. Even visiting family members were required to gather outside the hospital buildings and talk to loved ones through the ward windows. This sometimes meant large numbers of people were standing outside the facility that had 518 in-patient beds for treatment of that disease.

In 1971 the name was changed to the “Harlingen State Chest Hospital” and along with that name change there was also changes in policy and treatment. The hospital was directed to provide treatment for any chest or respiratory disease. It gave special emphasis to the treatment of chronic obstructive lung disease. With more follow-up services being provided, the OPC found it was serving more people. A total of 7,523 outpatients were treated during that year.

On September 1, 1983 the hospital was renamed again. It was then “South Texas Hospital.” With this third name change, there was also another change in the services provided to patients. For the next ten years services would be expanded. By 1993 it provided medical and surgical services in two inpatient units. One unit still treated those who were infected with Tuberculosis and the second unit handled medical and surgical patients. In addition to its original mission, the hospital was treating patients with hypertension, diabetes, and other disorders. The Outpatient Clinic had also grown in the variety of services it provided and was treating in excess of 2,000 patients a month. In addition to the medical services already mentioned, the OPC was providing a number of general, pediatric and subspecialty services. It was also being funded through the Texas Department of Health.

For several years in the late 90s operations were in a state of flux, as legislative decisions were being made. There was talk of closing South Texas Hospital. Then the talk changed to building a new hospital. Later money was appropriated. It was to build a new clinic or perhaps two clinics, with one in Hidalgo County and another location to be determined. Next there were changes in a variety of state agencies when HB2292 was passed and became law. With that legislative act, which required the consolidation of 12 different agencies, the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, along with the Texas Department of Health became united under the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Rio Grande State Center entered into a contract with the Texas Department of Health to manage the remaining services being provided at the former South Texas Hospital from May through August of 2004. On September 1, 2004 the agency mergers were completed and the combined facilities on Rangerville Road in Harlingen were given the official title of “Rio Grande State Center/South Texas Health Care System.”

This started the complex process of obtaining certification of the newly formed health care operation, along with the recertification of RGSC, its mental health and mental retardation services. Today those certifications include the Joint Commission Accreditation, Medicare, Intermediate Care Facilities for Mental Retardation (ICF/MR), Mammography Quality Standards Act, the American College of Radiology, and Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, in addition to a Certificate of Provider-Performed Microscopy Procedures.

Sonia Hernandez-Keeble is the Superintendent of the only triple health service facility operated by the Texas Department of State Health Services. She had previously served 14 years as the CEO for Rio Grande State Center and for almost a year held the superintendent position for both Rio Grande State Center and Laredo State Center simultaneously.

She says, "The Outpatient Clinic staff has been a delight to work with and were a wonderful addition to our team. It was obvious from the very beginning that they truly wanted to provide the best possible care to south Texas patients. The cooperation during our merger was fantastic and we immediately became one entity providing three different services. Our Joint Commission Accreditation came eight months after our merger. The Joint Commission, which is the premiere accrediting agency in the nation, said this was the 'best' merger they had ever seen."

With the passing of House Bill 1850 during the 81st Legislative Session in 2009, the facility’s name was shortened back to Rio Grande State Center.

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Last updated June 20, 2014