State health officials  lawmakers and county leaders gathered March 26 to break ground on the region’s first outpatient substance abuse and primary care treatment facility for juveniles.

The Hidalgo County Substance Abuse and Primary Care Facility will provide substance abuse treatment services such as counseling and life skills training in addition to primary care to treat corresponding health conditions that may make recovery difficult for the youth of our communities. This facility, which is slated to open during spring 2011, will improve the quality of life for residents by promoting a proactive approach to keeping kids off of drugs and out of the legal system.

The center will be located on a county-donated 6.3-acre tract east of Doolittle Road and north of Richardson Road in Precinct 4. It was made possible by the appropriation of $3 million in construction funds by the Texas Legislature in 2007. Hidalgo County will contribute an additional $650,000 — including the value of the land — to pay for utilities and building maintenance costs.

Texas Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, the author of the bill rider that authorized the Department of State Health and Human Services funding for the facility, said "This facility will assist young people who have substance abuse problems and are actively seeking the help they need to overcome their addiction."“This is front-line intervention to keep our children from entering the legal system. We know that children often get in trouble with the law because they have underlying issues at the home, sometimes paired with addictions. These addictions are life-threatening and life-changing. We hope to steer at-risk youth away from a life of addiction and crime and make them productive citizens in our communities. The youth are our future, and we dedicate this facility to them,” Sen. Hinojosa said.

The Hidalgo County Substance Abuse and Primary Care Facility will serve youth, aged 17 and under, on an outpatient basis. All methods of payment will be accepted — Medicaid, private insurance, county indigent program and private pay. Youths may be referred or parents may have them evaluated as walk-in clients. Patient load will be approximately 150 clients. Primary care is also a crucial component of the facility. Primary care services help those with substance abuse overcome other health conditions that sometimes go hand-in-hand with the addiction.

The county plans to advertise with a Request for Proposal for substance abuse treatment services soon. The goal is to have the contract for the service providers awarded by fall so when construction is complete, services will be immediately available to the community.

“The sooner we are operational, the sooner we can make a difference in the lives of our children dealing with problems no child should ever have to deal with,” said Pct. 4 Commissioner Oscar Garza. “Since this public facility is the first of its kind, I unfortunately have the feeling that it will be filled to capacity shortly after doors open. But I have optimism that by having this safe place to get help, fewer and fewer youth will be afflicted with addiction in the future, and we can also prevent them from entering a life of crime.”