Vernon State Hospital

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Vernon State Hospital
Opened 1951
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Vernon, TX
Peak Patient Population 531 in 1972
Alternate Names
  • Vernon State Center
  • North Texas State Hospital


The first state psychiatric facility in Vernon, TX, was a geriatric extension of Wichita Falls State Hospital called the Annex. It was first opened in 1951 at Victory Field, the former World War II Army Air Corp pilot training facility south of the city. It served about 400 "senile-type" patients. In 1967, construction of a new psychiatric rehabilitative facility began on 69 acres at the northwest edge of Vernon. In 1969, Vernon State Center began operation as a state hospital serving general psychiatric patients from 30 counties of northern Texas, independent of Wichita Falls State Hospital. It offered inpatient psychiatric services to a predominantly rural population and also operated seven rural-based outreach centers. Dr. Frankie Williams was the first Superintendent and served in that capacity until March 1986. (She was the first female superintendent in the Texas MHMR system and won a number of awards recognizing her as a pioneer in the mental health care field.)

In 1971, the Texas Legislature created a statewide treatment facility for drug dependent youth. Because of Vernon's remote location from the metropolitan drug scene, it was selected to be the site for this new service. The old Victory Field facility was again called into service. After extensive renovations and new building projects, Vernon State Center's South Campus received its first patients in March 1974. Over the years, the adolescent population evolved: From the first years as a drug treatment facility, the need became one to serve teens with a dual diagnosis of drug dependency and a mental illness. The program - serving an average census of 75 patients — was eventually renamed the Adolescent Forensic Program (AFP) because approximately 90% of the patients had, in addition to a dual diagnosis, an involvement with the law enforcement/judicial system.

In 1983, Vernon State Center's name was changed to Vernon State Hospital (VSH) to maintain continuity throughout the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (TDMHMR) system.

In 1987, the 70th Texas Legislature moved the state's forensic psychiatric program from Rusk State Hospital to Vernon State Hospital. The VSH general psychiatric patients were transferred to Wichita Falls State Hospital, and the VSH North Campus was subsequently converted to a maximum security facility. The forensic patients were transferred from Rusk to VSH between April and July of 1988. The Vernon State Hospital Maximum Security Unit - with an average census of 280 patients - was mandated to provide services to the following six populations:

-Persons with felony charges who have been found incompetent to stand trial;

-Persons admitted for pre-trial evaluations for competency and issues of insanity;

-Persons found not guilty by reason of insanity

-Persons from other state hospitals who have been found to be manifestly dangerous

-Mentally retarded persons who have been found incompetent to stand trial on misdemeanor or felony charges

-Persons from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and other jails who need inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. The hospital has never been asked to fulfill this mandate as TDCJ developed its own psychiatric services.

In February 1995, Vernon State Hospital celebrated becoming the first hospital in the TDMHMR system to meet requirements to be released from terms of the 20-year-old RAJ class action lawsuit. This lawsuit (styled RAJ after the initials of the patient on whose behalf it was filed in 1974) addressed a patient's right to appropriate and individualized treatment.

The year 1995 also marked the birth of an initiative between TDMHMR, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), Vernon State Hospital, the City of Vernon, and the Vernon Business Development Corporation to open a TYC youth boot camp facility at VSH's South Campus. As a result of the cooperative efforts of all parties, the VSH South Campus (Victory Field facility) was leased to the Texas Youth Commission the following year. The VSH Adolescent Forensic Program transferred to the VSH North Campus in September 1996, moving into four renovated buildings on the south side of the Maximum Security Program. The move necessitated an $8.5 million construction project, resulting in the building of the Mooney Building, which houses the adult Behavior Management and Treatment Program, and the Heatly Building, a new adolescent activity building. It also necessitated additions to the administrative complex, new fencing, and other renovations. By the late fall of 1997, the adult maximum security and adolescent forensic programs were fully operational at one campus location.

In January 1996, TDMHMR combined the administrations of Vernon State Hospital and Wichita Falls State Hospital under the leadership of James E. Smith, Superintendent. This initiative was in answer to the ever-pressing need to provide the citizens of Texas with more effective and more cost-efficient mental health care. Consolidation of the two hospitals became official on September 1, 1998, under the temporary name Vernon-Wichita? Falls State Hospital. Nine months later, the 76th Legislature formally renamed the organization North Texas State Hospital, retaining the location names - Vernon campus and Wichita Falls campus - to designate the individual sites.

The Vernon campus of North Texas State Hospital has a history of offering exceptional mental health care to the various groups of patients entrusted to its care and plans to continue to offer the best care available to the specialized populations of patients who are now in its charge. Throughout the years, it has maintained Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations accreditation as well as a reputation for "country care." It has become nationally recognized as a benchmark in the forensic mental health care field.

After two and a half years of intensive planning and incremental consolidation, Vernon and Wichita Falls State Hospitals officially became a single mental health care organization on September 1, 1998. In April 1999, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations conducted an extension survey of the campuses and granted accreditation to Vernon-Wichita Falls State Hospital as a consolidated facility. The following month, the state legislature formally renamed the "new" organization North Texas State Hospital (NTSH).

Today North Texas State Hospital operates two sites 55 miles apart in north Texas. The Vernon campus provides forensic services for the entire state of Texas and offers both a 284-bed Maximum Security Program for adults and a 78-bed Adolescent Forensic Program for dually diagnosed youth ages 13-17. The Wichita Falls campus provides general psychiatric inpatient services for child, adolescent, adult, and geriatric patients with a bed capacity of 330.

Together, the two campuses of the organization comprise the largest state hospital in Texas.