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Two central Pa.-based health systems named ‘great’ mental health providers

Patriot-News - 1/19/2024

York-based WellSpan Health and Montour County-based Geisinger were named to a list of 36 U.S. health systems providing “great psychiatry and mental health programs.”

The list compiled by Becker’s Hospital Review includes two other Pennsylvania health systems: Pittsburgh-based UPMC, which has a cluster of hospitals in central Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia-based Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Penn Medicine, which are part of one system that includes Lancaster General in central Pennsylvania.

The publication called WellSpan “the most comprehensive behavioral health program in South Central Pennsylvania,” and credited it with recently investing $30 million in mental health programs, and with a range of other initiatives to expand access.

Becker’s said Geisinger, which covers a mostly rural region with a severe shortage of mental health care, is adding 74 mental health providers in the space of two years, and has greatly expanded telemedicine to make it easier for people to receive mental health care.

Still, news that any local health systems are providing “great” mental health care might come as a surprise to people in the region who have experienced a need for mental health care.

Families, advocates, law enforcement professionals and mental health workers continually cite severe shortages of services all over Pennsylvania.

A 2023 PennLive article focusing on access to mental health care detailed long waits for appointments even for people who are severely depressed and possibly suicidal, and major obstacles to getting sufficient care for people in mental health crisis.

The likely consequences of that were seen yet again in central Pennsylvania just days ago, when Carlisle police shot and killed a man whose family had been trying to have him involuntarily committed for mental health care.

However, there’s widespread recognition of the need for expanded services and better approaches. Carlisle, for example, had already decided to hire a specialist who will respond to situations involving mental health.

And in a major Harrisburg-region development, Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties are partnering on a large-scale crisis center expected to open within about a year. It will be open at all times, with officials saying anyone who goes there will begin receiving treatment within a few hours — far better than present wait times for a first appointment. Officials further said they expect to greatly reduce situations where people in mental health crisis spend many hours in hospital waiting rooms, and are often sent outside the area for inpatient care.

On a statewide level, Pennsylvania recently began participating in a national 988 hotline for suicide prevention. Calls are handled by trained counselors in local centers positioned around the state, with counselors also having the ability to activate local responders and provide referrals to local resources. State officials, while acknowledging the shortage in services, said they track outcomes of calls to make sure people receive useful support rather than referrals that lead nowhere.

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