(LAREDO)- Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Friday (Nov. 21) joined regional leaders and mental health advocates in celebrating the groundbreaking of a new crisis mental health facility at Camino Real Community Services in Atascosa County.
Camino Real is the authority providing services for persons with mental illnesses and persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities to nine rural counties, including five in Senate District (SD) 21, namely, Atascosa, Karnes, McMullen, La Salle and Wilson. Other counties served are Dimmit, Frio, Maverick and Zavala.
While Camino Real already has mobile crisis outreach teams that respond to all crisis events in its 10,000 square mile service area, the new facility will add in-patient psychiatric services.
“I am delighted that this facility will provide a local option for persons with mental illnesses who go into psychiatric crisis,” Senator Zaffirini said. “It not only will allow persons with mental illnesses to stay closer to their families, but also will prevent time-consuming and expensive trips to San Antonio and preclude unnecessary hospitalizations.”
The new crisis residential facility under construction in Atascosa County and another in Maverick County each will have four extended observation beds and 16 beds for crisis residential treatment.
Other speakers at the groundbreaking included Camino Real Executive Director Emma Garcia; Judge Donna Rayes, Board Chair; Atascosa County Judge Diana Bautista; and Lytle Mayor Mark Bowen.
Senator Zaffirini is a lifelong champion for mental health services. As a 20-year old student at The University of Texas at Austin, she secured her dream job: working at what was then called the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. Alongside significantly older leaders like Mary Elizbeth Holdsworth Butt, Fred Bell, and Helen Farabee, she was at the forefront of the controversial movement to establish and to nurture community MHMR centers, promoting community living instead of institutionalization.
Incredibly, at the age of 22 (1968) she was named to the Board of Directors of the Texas Mental Health Association, the organization from which Mental Health America of Texas evolved, and served as its State Chair for Community Health Services and as State Co-Chair of Legislative Action. She volunteered her time to lobby the Texas Legislature and to testify for MHMR before legislative committees.
A member of the Senate Health and Human Services and Finance committees, she has passed more than 25 bills that specifically improve mental health services for Texans, especially in the community. Her mental health legislation has included bills protecting patients at psychiatric hospitals from abuse and neglect, ensuring safe transportation of persons experiencing mental health crises to appropriate medical facilities and helping prevent child relinquishment for the purpose of obtaining mental health services. Her proudest moments include securing $109.4 million for enhanced adult crisis mental health services in 2009 and her happiest include the elimination in 2013 of waiting lists for mental health services.
She has won more than 10 awards for her advocacy of mental health, including the Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt Award from Mental Health America of Texas.
“I ran for the Senate to champion the needs of those who cannot always advocate for themselves, most especially, persons with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities,” she said. “The development of Camino Real’s crisis mental health facility is an important step forward in ensuring quality, community-based services are available to all Texans.”
In addition to services for persons with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities, Camino Real also provides Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services in 12 counties, including seven in SD 21 (Atascosa, Bee, Guadalupe, La Salle, Live Oak, McMullen and Wilson). More information about Camino Real can be obtained via http://www.caminorealcs.org/ or 800/491-5201.