Bucks County is moving forward with plans to open a mental health facility to help those in crisis.
The facility will be for people who may have previously been sent to the county correctional facility and is designed to offer help instead of solely running a person through the courts system or waiting for a spot to open at a state facility.
The new center would work hand-in-hand with attorneys, public defenders, prosecutors, and police. A soon-to-be-implemented mental health court will also work with the facility.
Bucks County Commissioner Chairperson Diane Ellis-Marseglia announced the news during last week’s State of the County address hosted by the Lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce.
She said the new facility will be housed in what was the women’s community correctional facility in Doylestown Township, a central location. The building was closed last year during the pandemic as the population shrunk to only a handful of people.
The county is still working to determine the costs, but it will seek grant funding, insurance payments for those treated there, and reinvestment funds for mental health programs from the state, said Ellis-Marseglia.
While the county would oversee the site, the facility would most likely be run by an organization with experience operating similar programs, said Ellis-Marseglia.
The planned facility is preliminarily expected to have four crisis beds, four beds for people about to return to the community, and 16 other beds – four for women and 12 for men.
“Our mental health department, providers in the community, and jail all believe that’s the number of beds we feel we need for both diversion from jail and re-entry from jail and Norristown State Hospital,” Ellis-Marseglia said.
The commissioner said there are more beds for men because experience in Bucks County has shown there are “significantly” more men with mental health issues involved in the justice system. She noted data from forensic service providers also confirm that.
The need for the center was known, but that became all to obvious when two Levittown-area cases involving people in crisis gained the spotlight through reporting from LevittownNow.com and other news organizations.
Ellis-Marseglia said the COVID-19 pandemic and an early lack of housing at a state center designed to help those in crisis exacerbated problems last year.
“It became apparent as the police had nowhere to take people,” she said.
The county is working to improve communications between different agencies, including the mental health department and correctional facility.
Ellis-Marseglia, a social worker by training, explained that county mental health workers get a regular list of those in custody. The goal is to see if treatment options could be offered to help.
“Communicating with each other can help,” she said.
The county has created a so-called “boundary spanner” to look at options for people in custody who are dealing with mental health issues.
The new county crisis center would not replace crisis units at hospitals in the lower, central, and upper ends of the county. Ellis-Marseglia said it would provide another avenue for those in crisis, who have often been placed into jail due to a lack of options for law enforcement.
Ellis-Marseglia stated the new mental court will be in operation by summer.
Bucks County is the only Pennsylvania county in the Philadelphia region to not have a mental health court. The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania said there are 20 counties in the state that have their own mental health courts.
Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub has supported the creation of the mental health court.
Among other options, the county will look this year to expand the co-responder program that has trained social workers responding with police for a variety of issues, including mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and aging.
Ellis-Marseglia didn’t name the towns, but said the pilot program could be expanded to several municipalities.
The program being tested out in Bensalem Township has used the social workers to connect those in crisis with relevant resources.
The commissioner said the program has already helped residents in Bensalem Township.