Bucks County plans to open new mental-health facility this summer

Bucks County plans to open new mental-health facility this summer

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Bucks County plans to open a 24-bed facility this summer for those needing mental health treatment in a building that formerly housed the Women's Community Corrections Center.

It's the latest step in a series of actions the Bucks County Commissioners have taken to address the problems faced by those with a mental health diagnosis in getting timely treatment, as well as with issues created in the county prison system when inmates om need of treatment are incarcerated, especially during the COVID crisis.

Commissioner Chairwoman Diane Ellis-Marseglia announced the plans in a "State of the County" address to more than 60 members of the Lower Bucks Chamber of Commerce earlier this month. Most of the participants Zoomed into the online conference which was moderated by former state Rep. David Steil.

Marseglia said that mental health issues have been a long-standing problem in many communities worsened this year by the pandemic. Since hospitals treating COVID patients haven't had enough beds available to care for those facing a mental-health crisis, many either languish in emergency departments or have had to be arrested by police and taken to the county jail where being incarcerated can aggravate their condition, she said.

First, the county hired a "boundary spanner" who looks for ways to get a person out of the prison and into a hospital bed.

"The boundary spanner tries to advocate," Marseglia said, for the person to be placed at Norristown State Hospital. Currently, she said. "the only way to get to Norristown is through the jail. The only way to get there is to get arrested."

The new facility will have four beds for people in a crisis so they can avoid incarceration in the county prison, another four beds for people who have been arrested but are too mentally incompetent to stand trial, and 16 beds as a step-down unit for people coming out of Norristown, before they go back to the community.

"We're hoping to get this built by June - July, and that will make an enormous difference," Marseglia said.

And the county is trying to advance communications within its correctional facilities so that staff knows if someone has mental-health issues and is appointing a mental health judge.

The new mental-health court that the county announced previously will begin working in June, once the new facility is open. The objective is to get the person treatment and not a criminal charge.

The county also plans to open a recovery house for those with both mental health and addiction problems as a court-ordered step-down unit before its residents can go back to their communities.

Along with these efforts, Marseglia said that the county has started a pilot program with the Bensalem Police Department which may be expanded. The department now has two social workers that can go out with police on calls that involve mental health or emotional issues to try to resolve a situation before it leads to a mental health crisis. She said that in Bensalem, the program already has helped one person that frequently called police in the past for crises in the home.

Marseglia said she was happy to report that these major steps were being put into place "to help those people so vulnerable in our community."


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