A newly expanded behavioral health unit in Lancaster County will bring comprehensive treatment of individuals with complex mental health and medical needs to the region.
It’s a need Leslie Naylor sees all too well.
“We expect to be full,” the director of behavioral health services at WellSpan Ephrata said Wednesday during an open house at the enlarged $3.4 million behavioral health unit, which is set to open next week at Ephrata Community Hospital.
A recent community health needs assessment conducted by WellSpan Health identified access to comprehensive behavioral health services as a key need across the region.
The 3,300-square-foot addition more than doubles the total number of behavioral health beds at the hospital from seven to 18. Construction began in January.
In addition to caring for short-stay, or acute, behavioral health patients, the facility gives WellSpan Ephrata the capacity to care for patients whose persistent mental health needs may require treatment of up to 180 days.
The unit also allows the hospital to care for behavioral health patients who simultaneously require treatment of medical needs such as congestive heart failure or diabetes.
“There’s always a challenge in serving persons who have persistent mental illness, but also some persistent co-morbidity medical problem,” said Phil Hess, senior vice-president of WellSpan Health and president of WellSpan Philhaven.
York-based WellSpan acquired a Philhaven, a Lebanon-based behavioral health system, in 2016. Wellspan Philhaven, which manages the Ephrata behavioral unit, has 27 locations across Adams, Lancaster, Lebanon, York and Dauphin counties.
The expanded facility will accept referrals from Lancaster, Lebanon, Dauphin, Cumberland Perry counties. Previously, most of the unit’s patients were referred from within the hospital itself.
“I think there are lots of patients now who need longer-term care and different types of care than can be delivered in an acute-stay program,” said Dr. Francis Sparrow, vice-president and medical director of Wellspan Philhaven.
“The thing we know about people with behavioral health problems is that they have an increased amount of medical problems,” Sparrow said.
The program serves patients 18 and up, but many are in their early 30s, he added.
WellSpan officials say the combination of behavioral and medical treatment facilities in one unit is a first for Lancaster County.
But it’s not the only health system in the county that’s expanding to meet the complex needs of behavioral health patients.
Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine this spring broke ground on a 126-bed, $30 million behavioral health hospital in Lancaster City. Expected to open in 2018, that facility will offer specialized mental health needs not currently met locally, including treatment for adolescents and women who have suffered abuse, officials said.
As with WellSpan, the new construction is a response to current trends. The existing 36-bed behavioral health unit at Lancaster General “is at capacity most days,” hospital spokeswoman Mary Ann Eckard said.
Scooter Haase, Executive Director of Mental Health America of Lancaster County, sees expansion of facilities as a step in the right direction.
“According to ‘The State of Mental Health in America 2017,’ a study conducted by Mental Health America, Pennsylvania ranks twelfth in the nation regarding access to care, with one mental health worker for every 580 individuals,” Haase said.
“The need is growing. Population in Lancaster county continues to grow, and services have not kept pace so far,” he added. “It’s a slow process, but awareness of the need for mental health treatment is increasing.”
The expanded WellSpan unit was designed with the latest, best practices of behavioral health in mind, officials said, from wellness and healing to safety and security.
Plastic chairs in the rooms and common areas are loaded down with 60 pounds of sand, so they can be moved around but not easily picked up and thrown. Minimalist bathroom fixtures allow patients to have an easy grip as they move in and out, but there are no exposed pipes or parts that can be removed or cause injury. Security cameras also allow for extra sets of eyes on the unit as needed, and double doors help prevent patients from leaving when they are not supposed to.
At the same time, cheerful paintings and decorations are designed to help promote a calm and restful atmosphere, while patients will have access to a landscaped outdoor garden with water features.
Telephones in common areas also allow patients to contact relatives and other loved ones, something WellSpan officials say can be critical in the treatment process.
“This new unit treats the whole person, mind, body and spirit,” Hess said.