HT President Talks About Mental Health

Editorial by Huston-Tillotson University President and CEO Larry L. Earvin, Ph.D.

You have probably heard about the new medical school at the University of Texas at Austin and Seton Healthcare Family’s new teaching hospital. What you may not have heard about is Huston-Tillotson University’s planned Community Health and Wellness Center (CHWC).

And its mission goes squarely at the prevention of mental and behavioral health problems that can affect our communities in so many tragic ways.

But you will hear about the CHWC. Huston-Tillotson, a historically black university of nearly 1,000 students now in its 139th year, is reaching out to friends and neighbors to help us be a part of this sprawling, wonderful movement to improve health care in Central Texas.

Through my 40 years as an educator, I have been dismayed to see the barriers to success that face young black males. I do not set aside young women, who have similar needs. But I especially want to see that more young males survive the passage through their adolescence and teen-aged years to become strong, healthy and productive men.

If we can capture them at an early age, and provide them the daily activity and shelter of a CHWC, where coaches, therapists, physicians, faculty, athletes and other college students engage them, they will fare far better.

We have identified a first-rate group of African-American psychiatrists and psychologists who are interested in moving to Austin to open the doors of our clinic as early as next year. But we must first assemble the financial foundation, and build the political and corporate support to be an integral part of Austin’s healthcare movement.

We want all people to be healthy mentally as well as physically. We will provide primary care and treatment for diseases that especially burden minority communities. But we will focus the core work of the CHWC on mental and behavioral health problems. About 20 percent of Travis County adults experienced five or more days of poor mental health in the past month. That proportion is higher among blacks (24.3 percent) and Hispanics (26.6 percent). Yet there are only a handful of minority mental health providers in our community.

By creating the HT CHWC, we will make a pre-emptive strike to reach young people early, creating a facility that merges health care with wellness and fitness. We will have a gymnasium and other athletic facilities that will engage the young and the old and establish lasting relationships with our health care professionals.

Within a year, we will open an intermediate CHWC on land we own adjacent to our campus in East Austin. As soon as resources permit, we will begin building a $35 million permanent CHWC on the southwest corner of our campus, at 7th Street and Chalmers Avenue.

Thus far, we have had the support an encouragement of our board and alumni, the City of Austin, other healthcare organizations and foundations. We have had discussions with executives at UT, and perhaps a partnership will evolve where universities can work together to create a national model to serve the health needs of all people, regardless of their social station in life.

We need to improve lives, and help make all our youth mentally and physically whole.

April 2014

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