Mental health care providers are concerned about a 126-bed, $30 million psychiatric hospital proposed near Harrisburg Pike and West Liberty Street.
Officials from Lancaster General Health, which is proposing the hospital, will answer questions Tuesday at a county-sponsored forum. Some 30 mental and behavioral care providers in the area are expected to attend.
“Many of the stakeholders have asked a lot of questions about the proposed Lancaster General Health hospital,” Lancaster County Chief Clerk Bob Still said.
Concerns include whether the new facility would take staff and patients away from existing providers, including some nonprofits. Advocates would also like to know if the new facility would take prisoners with mental health needs — currently it is difficult to get care for some prisoners.
Even as they have concerns, leaders of several local organizations told LNP they see needs and are grateful that LG Health is looking to address them.
Eric Eshleman, CEO of Lancaster-based Behavioral Healthcare Corp., said he’s nervous about the possibility of losing staff to a big new player with deep pockets, and wonders what will happen to referrals.
Cathy DeGuire, CEO of T.W. Ponessa & Associates Counseling Services Inc., said it provides outpatient services and she’s “not sure there’s a lot more need for that.”
Kent Kroehler, secretary of the county Have a Heart for Persons in the Criminal Justice System group, said LG Health needs to address the fact that the county prison “is the de facto mental health unit” for poor people here.
Dr. Fran Sparrow — medical director of Philhaven, the region’s largest behavioral health care provider, with a 106-bed campus in Lebanon County, and vice president of behavioral health for its York-based parent company, WellSpan Health — had a different perspective.
He said the biggest hole he sees is for robust outpatient programs.
And despite “very significant challenges” here, he said, “we’re relatively blessed when you look at our region compared to other parts of the country, in terms of the amount of behavioral health resources.”
The proposed facility
Last summer, LG Health said it was looking for a partner to expand its mental health services.
In April, it revealed plans for the new facility on the northwest edge of Lancaster city. It was envisioned to include the county’s only inpatient unit for adolescents.
This week, the health system said it has selected a partner to be named shortly, and is starting the municipal approval process for the building, which it estimates will cost $30 million and open in 2018.
“So frequently in the past when we’ve built new programs or facilities, we always seem to underestimate how much of a response we’ll get,” said Stacey Youcis, LG Health’s senior vice president of service lines and population health.
Youcis said the system currently has to divert 58 percent of adult mental health inpatient cases outside the county, sometimes hours away.
The partnership is not trying “to replace anybody else’s services in this community,” she said.
Rather, she said, its aim is to provide the acute care that’s currently in short supply, then work with the existing organizations to transition patients to the long-term, community-based support services they’ll need.
And on incarceration and mental health, she said LG Health is continuing conversations about “what is the best solution for our community.”
It has been meeting with mental health stakeholders over the past year, many on an individual basis, Youcis said, and “the overwhelming reaction has been very positive.”