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Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center serves 12,000 mental health patients in first two years

Photo of the ribbon cutting of the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center
Two years ago, the opening of the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center was celebrated. It has now served more than 12,000 patients. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)

In the two years since the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center at UTHealth Houston opened its doors in collaboration with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), it has helped relieve the overall wait times for Texans needing mental health care and provided a resource closer to home for patients.

“We’re proud of the work being done at the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center, which is making an impact on the lives of Texans, specifically helping people in the Houston area who need access to mental health services,” said Texas HHSC Deputy Executive Commissioner for the Health and Specialty Care System Scott Schalchlin.

Since its opening, the Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center has admitted 4,039 patients and served 8,315 walk-in patients from March 2022 through January 2024. The hospital building carries the name of the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center in gratitude for a generous gift from the Dunn Foundation to bolster the university’s behavioral health initiatives and address significant gaps in mental health care services.

"The Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center has added significant new resources to care for our patients and their families — this is a great accomplishment for our community," said Jair Soares, MD, PhD, the Pat R. Rutherford, Jr. Chair in Psychiatry at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, executive director of the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center, and founding dean of UTHealth Houston School of Behavioral Health Sciences.

The Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center is a unique partnership between UTHealth Houston and HHSC. While HHSC funded construction and owns the facility, UTHealth Houston operates the Dunn Center. HHSC also contracts with UTHealth Houston to add 120 competency restoration beds for patients who are currently in jail and need mental health services to regain competency to stand trial. The additional beds contribute to the HHSC state hospital system and serve the 29 contiguous counties surrounding Houston.

“With the addition of our 120 competency restoration beds, we have tangibly and noticeably helped increase the overall state’s capacity for competency restoration,” said Daniel Doyle, DrPH, MS, chief operating officer of the UTHealth Houston Behavioral Sciences Campus, which includes the Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center.

The hospital accommodates multiple patient populations and levels of treatment with access to medication management, group and individual therapy, and educational and life skills training. One objective for the Dunn Center is providing treatment options for patients struggling with treatment-resistant depression.

“One of our missions was to bring care closer to home for people, and most of our admissions come from transfers from outlying facilities,” Doyle said. “We are also helping people in immediate crisis. A small portion of our admissions are from patients who come to our emergency department and are admitted.”

Since opening, the hospital has provided 685 new jobs, hiring 341 psychiatric technicians, 280 nurses, and 64 clinicians. The campus is helping to build the mental health workforce at a time of great need in Texas since more than 95% of Texas counties are designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. Dunn helps alleviate the statewide workforce shortage for psychiatric care works by providing annual training for 673 trainees including medical students, residents, fellows, nursing students, and interns, as well as essential education and training experience for more than 2,000 graduate students from other universities across the state.

With the addition of the university’s seventh school, UTHealth Houston School of Behavioral Health Sciences (opening fall 2025), the Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center will further increase mental health workforce development across the state with 30 additional degrees and certificates.


Many people at the Texas State Capitol and across the state were instrumental in securing the construction funds, including former Sen. Jane Nelson, now Texas Secretary of State; former Rep. John Zerwas, MD, now executive vice chancellor of health affairs for The University of Texas System; and state leaders Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and former House Speaker Joe Straus. Sen. Charles Schwertner, MD, and former Rep. Sarah Davis, who oversaw budget negotiations for health and human services programs, led the effort in their respective chambers to make sure funding was included. Other members of the Harris County delegation were vocal in their support.

The new building was also a recommended project by two interim committees before the session. After a long study, tours, and briefings, the Houston project was recommended for this behavioral health funding by the Senate Interim Committee on Health and Human Services, led by Sen. Schwertner and vice chaired by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst; and the House Select Committee on Mental Health, which was led by Rep. Four Price and included local Houston mental health champions Rep. Garnet Coleman and Rep. Senfronia Thompson.

In addition to statewide leadership from Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan, legislators who were key to operational funding of these beds during the 87th Legislature were SB 1 and HB 2 author/sponsor Sen. Nelson and Rep. Greg Bonnen, MD. Additionally, the chief budget negotiators for the health and human service programs in conference committee were Sen. Kolkhorst and Rep. Giovanni Capriglione assisted by Rep. Ann Johnson, a member of the House Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

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