Forerunner to the North Texas State Hospital, the state of Texas created the Northwest Texas Insane Asylum in 1917 on a 940-acre tract just south of Wichita Falls. By 1925, the name changed to Wichita Falls State Hospital, and the facility included a modern surgical operating room plus radiology, laboratory, electrotherapy and hydrotherapy equipment. By 1930, the census had grown to over 1500 patients, and the hospital employed a staff of 235 including seven doctors and 93 attendants. At the height of the Great Depression, the hospital was a self-sustaining community with an agriculture enterprise that included farming and raising hogs, chickens and cattle. Most of the staff lived on campus.
World War II brought about a wartime shortage of available employees with only 234 staff members serving a patient population of about 2400. Staff worked 12-hour shifts 6 days per week to cover needs of the facility that had grown to include 35 brick buildings and 60 frame structures.
Following the war, the staff jumped to over 500 by the early 1950’s, and in 1951, Vernon State Home was activated as a branch of Wichita Falls State Hospital. The Vernon facility was located at the now unused Victory Field Army Air Corps training field and served about 400 patients who were considered not to require an active medical or psychiatric program. The Wichita Falls State Hospital grew to a census of 2400.
The mid-1950’s brought about revolutionary changes in psychiatric treatment with the introduction of psychotropic medications, and the 1960’s saw even more changes with the creation of Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. A volunteer coordinator and social workers were added to the staff, and application was made for accreditation through Medicare and the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Hospitals which required major renovations to the facility and richer staffing ratios.
The 1980’s saw Vernon State Hospital redefined as the state’s forensic psychiatric facility resulting in expansion of the hospitals catchment area from 23 to 53 counties. Psychosocial programming and programs such as the client worker program, Fairweather Lodge and Career Village as well as the introduction of the first atypical antipsychotic drug Clozaril profoundly affected the ability of patients to return to their communities and contributed to a falling census.