Tower Health berks county psychiatric hospital

This is what Tower Health says the Berks County behavioral health hospital to open in 2019 will look like. 

An already big change headed for mental health care in Central Pennsylvania just got a lot more massive.

On Tuesday, Tower Health announced a partnership between Reading Hospital and national company Acadia Healthcare that will open a 144-bed behavioral health care hospital in Berks County in 2019.

That’s roughly half a year after Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine and national company Universal Health Services Inc. plan to open the 126-bed Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital in Lancaster city.

Providers have long said there’s a need for more inpatient mental health treatment in the region, but also expressed concern that the scale of the Lancaster hospital and related outpatient offerings will draw patients and talent away from existing local organizations.

Lancaster General leaders have said UHS committed to do everything it can to recruit staff from outside the community.

Tower plans

Tower did not release a cost estimate for the new hospital but said it will be built on an 82-acre lot on Route 183 in Bern Township, “allowing for future growth.”

The Lancaster and Berks hospitals will have some of the same offerings, including specialized inpatient units for adolescents and geriatric patients, extensive outpatient services and care for substance abuse disorders.

Additionally, the Lancaster hospital will have units for psychiatric patients who have serious medical issues, and for women who have experienced trauma.

Both companies are large. UHS has more than 350 facilities; Acadia has 591, including White Deer Run of Lancaster, a male-only residential program for substance abuse and mental health treatment.

Lancaster impact

In addition to the Tower announcement, news broke this week that two years after Texas regulators threatened to close a UHS hospital over severe safety problems, federal officials have warned that conditions there are putting patients in “immediate jeopardy.”

The Associated Press said, “A scathing inspection report by state regulators in October described how Timberlawn put children at risk, coinciding with a 13-year-old patient's allegations that she was raped by a 17-year-old male patient.”

The story noted that the problems occurred “even as the state says it visited the hospital 10 times this year before the reported rape.”

UHS did not respond Tuesday to specific questions about the Texas facility.

As LNP previously reported, the federal Justice Department is investigating UHS for alleged billing fraud, and government inspectors have cited several dozen of its facilities across the nation for “dangerously poor or unsafe conditions” in recent years.

In the past, UHS has characterized reports raising questions about its facilities as inaccurate, and said it scores high on patient satisfaction and evaluations by independent accreditors.

Lancaster General spokesman John Lines said in an email that the system “conducted a thorough and deliberative evaluation of several potential partner candidates” and is “confident that our joint-venture behavioral health hospital will address substantial unmet need for high-quality, compassionate care in our community.”

Lancaster General also previously noted that the Lancaster hospital will be the first 50-50 partnership in UHS history. UHS generally owns more than half of each hospital.

And in naming Jayne Van Bramer CEO of the Lancaster hospital two weeks ago, Lancaster General and UHS said she was vice president of behavioral health at Brandywine Hospital in Chester County when it attained “the first state licensing survey with zero deficiencies since the program’s inception.”