Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

October 18, 2012

New state hospital superintendent has strong ties to profession

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress


Brenda Slaton, a 30-year employee of Rusk State Hospital with a powerful history in mental health service advocacy, faces challenges ahead as the institution's newly-appointed superintendent.

Slaton replaces outgoing Superintendent Ted Debbs, who left Sept. 1 to become the executive director of Anderson-Cherokee Community Enrichment Services, which is a Jacksonville-based community health center serving Cherokee and Anderson Counties.

Slaton, who helped establish the Family House — which provides overnight accommodations for families visiting loved ones who are patients — started work Monday. On her “to do” list is waiting for an impending visit from the Joint Commission accreditation agency, plus waiting out possible financial cuts from the Texas Legislature.

But her contemporaries believe Slaton is certainly up to the job. They say she was promoted because of her empathy and dedication to serving the patients of the 335-bed Rusk State Hospital, which provides inpatient psychiatric treatment and care for much of East Texas.

"She demonstrates a strong commitment to the values and goals of the State Hospital System,” Terry Palya, executive assistant at the Texas Department of State Health Services' central office in Austin, said in an issued statement.

Through a spokesperson, Slaton declined to be interviewed, providing only a short written biography and a photo by email.  

The aforementioned visit by the Joint Commission, the accreditation entity for Rusk State Hospital, could come at any time. During the last, Feb. 18, 2010 survey, the Joint Commission —  an independent, not-for-profit organization — gave the institution high marks, determine RSH was  in compliance with all standards at the time. A call to the Joint Commission employee about this next visit was not immediately returned Wednesday.

To earn and maintain such accreditation, an organization must undergo an on-site survey by a Joint Commission survey team at least every three years.  The Joint Commission evaluates health care organizations in synchronicity with nationally-recognized guidelines — including the organization’s level of performance in areas of patient rights, patient treatment and infection control. Additionally, the hospital's ability to provide safe and high-quality care is scrutinized.

Another concern is the possibility of budget cuts when the gavel hits on the 83rd Texas Legislature starting in January. Such cuts have been a continuing possibility for years.  

Officials say Slaton's work good work for Rusk Hospital stands the test of time. The Family House  she helped establish, for instance, currently accommodates seven people and has a kitchen.

An employee of RSH since 1978, the new superintendent graduated from high school in Rusk and earned a degree at Stephen F. Austin University, her biography shows.

Slaton, Palya wrote, most recently served the hospital as director for several of RSH's patient care units. But she initially began there as a social worker. Her initial responsibilities as a social worker led to her assuming leadership positions with RSH work groups, including establishing the Family House and facilitating communication with communicate providers and the legal system.

One of her earliest assignments as a social worker was on the institution's Sky View unit. For years, she was a director of special projects and was also responsible for coordination of activities between the hospital and the community mental health authorities that refer individuals for inpatient services.

Slaton has served as  director of several patient units at the hospital, including that of the Cypress patient unit immediately prior to her appointment as superintendent. Cypress is comprised of over 100 of the Rusk Hospital's beds.

Slaton has long had an interest in working with other entities that comprise the state mental health system of services — as well as with initiatives that provide advocacy for mental health services in Texas, officials said.

She has worked with the Lufkin/Nacogdoches and Houston chapters of the National Alliance for Mental Illness and has served on the planning committee of annual Mission Possible educational conference.

She is married to David Slaton and has two adult sons and three grandchildren.