CHI St. Joseph Children's Health

A local nonprofit is starting a first-of-its-kind initiative in Lancaster County to offer mental and behavioral health services to children, regardless of insurance or ability to pay.

In the beginning, CHI St. Joseph's initiative called Patchwork Quilt Project will work with three area school districts — Lampeter-Strasburg, Penn Manor and Pequea Valley — as well as directly with county families that seek its help.

When fully staffed the project will employ six people and cost about $1.1 million a year.

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With the new initiative, the East Lampeter Township nonprofit is expanding outside dental care, its traditional focus area. The move is in response to repeated reports of lack of of behavioral health care services for children in the county, which reflects a nationwide shortage.

“It’s frustration all around,” St. Joseph president Phil Goropoulos said, as schools see problems go unaddressed and parents “can't get straight answers as to what they can do” to help.

The shortage of providers has left families waiting three to six months for an initial psychiatric evaluation, even if they have commercial insurance, Goropoulos said.

According to a report from Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation, half of the families in the county who sought behavioral health care for children had trouble getting it.

The foundation, which earlier this year announced a $525,000, three-year effort to better coordinate care between physical and behavioral health care providers, is partnering with St. Joseph in the new initiative.

The plan is to offer services in schools and alongside St. Joseph’s new dental office in East Lampeter Township, eventually expanding the program to more districts.

But before it can start, St. Joseph's needs to find at least one of the two psychiatrists it’s seeking to hire.

Goropoulos said they’ve been looking since May, using recruiting firms with nationwide experience, and hope for success soon.

Once they do get started, he said, “A lot of people have warned us that we're going to very quickly hit our capacity [of 900 to 1,000 active patients at a time], because of the demand that is out there.”

Karen Staub, Lampeter-Strasburg’s student services coordinator, said the district is thrilled to be part of the initiative.

In addition to increasing access to needed services, she said, “our hope is to have a greater level of collaboration between the mental health provider, teachers and parents.”

St. Joseph’s parent organization, the national nonprofit Catholic Health Initiatives, has awarded the project an $855,000 grant, to be distributed over the next three years.

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