AUSTIN, Texas — A nationally recognized leader in psychiatric care and research will steer the landmark partnership between Huston-Tillotson University and the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, bringing new health resources — especially mental health resources — to historically underserved residents of East Austin and other parts of Travis County, the universities announced Tuesday.
Dr. William Lawson comes to Austin from the Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., where he served as professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He has been published in more than 180 publications, received numerous federal and local grants, and served as chief of psychiatry in Arkansas for the Veterans Administration and chief medical officer for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health.
He will manage what will be known as the Sandra Joy Anderson Community Health and Wellness Center at Huston-Tillotson, a historically black university in East Austin. His team, working at both HT and UT Austin, will work to increase access to mental health care for underserved communities across Travis County and to promote research that will help reveal the causes of disparities in care. And his expertise in providing psychiatric and other health services to incarcerated individuals will allow for innovative partnerships that improve care in Travis County jail settings, decreasing the cost of that care for taxpayers while making communities across the county healthier.
“I am pleased to be a part of this collaboration to address what are, in many instances, hidden community medical care needs,” Dr. Lawson said. “National data from various sources point to the prevalence of mental illness throughout communities and especially within minority populations. The opportunity to bring solutions to Austin through this partnership speaks to the vision of the leaders of all the entities involved, as well as their commitment to providing solution-based care across this community.”
Dr. Lawson will be a jointly appointed faculty member at both HT and UT Austin. His program will be funded by the two universities and by Austin-Travis County Integral Care, which will provide community-based behavioral health and developmental disabilities services at the Health and Wellness Center as it does across the county. He also will bring previously acquired grant funds supporting efforts to better understand mental disorders in underserved individuals.
Ultimately, Dr. Lawson plans to develop a mood disorders comorbidity center promoting state-of-the-art community education and research interventions that target an increasingly diverse community.
The partners said Dr. Lawson’s work, coupled with the services provided at the Health and Wellness Center, will bolster opportunities to conduct research designed to improve clinical interventions. Additionally, Dr. Lawson will strengthen the ability of the public mental health system to meet the needs of underserved communities disproportionally affected by mental health issues.
In this way, the partnership will further the goals of the Dell Medical School in its partnership with Central Health, the Travis County health care district, to improve the delivery of health care to uninsured and vulnerable residents across the county. Huston-Tillotson also is working with CommUnityCare to provide primary care services that will be integrated with mental health services delivered through the Health and Wellness Center.
“The Dell Medical School wants to make Austin and Travis County a model healthy community. That simply isn’t possible when so many of our neighbors need mental health care but can’t get it,” said Dr. Clay Johnston, inaugural dean of the Dell Medical School. “We’re honored that Dr. Lawson wants to be part of the vital, inclusive health ecosystem we’re working to create.”
“Dr. Lawson will be a remarkable resource, both on our campus and in our community,” said Dr. Larry L. Earvin, president and chief executive officer of Huston-Tillotson University. “His work, along with the physicians and residents in this program, will provide a level of care to people in this community that has been lacking. By rooting this program in East Austin, we will give greater health care access to people from minority communities.”
Dr. Lawson has been recognized by Congress for his work at Howard University and by the American Psychiatric Foundation for work in the minority community. He received awards from the American Psychiatric Association and the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Section of the National Medical Association. He is past president of the Washington Psychiatric Association, the Black Psychiatrists of America and Mental Health America. He is on the scientific advisory boards of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.