The state Department of Public Welfare is decreasing the patient populations in its state hospitals, releasing more patients to live more normal lives in communities.
Because state law requires the department to hold a public hearing within 30 days after downsizing 20 percent or more in resident, staff or patient population at any state mental health facility — or within 30 days of a closure announcement — DPW will hold a hearing in Scranton on the decreasing patient population at Clarks Summit State Hospital.
The hearing on the declining resident population at Clarks Summit State Hospital is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at The University of Scranton’s Loyola Science Center, 204 Monroe Ave., in Room 133.
According to DPW, the Clarks Summit facility now houses 217 patients. Under Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget for 2014-15, that number would drop to 159 by July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. The number of patients there peaked at 1,046 patients in 1947.
Luzerne County Human Services Director David Schwille recently told a County Council committee the county may participate in a state program that will allow 10 residents of the Clarks Summit State Hospital to return to residences in Luzerne County. The program would involve housing assistance and ongoing monitoring to ensure clients have support and participate in prescribed treatment, he said.
The county would work with the state to identify eligible participants who are diagnosed with serious mental illness but can still live independently, he said.
Schwille said the benefits are worth pursuing.
“It gives these folks a chance to come back and be supported by the community instead of living in an institution. It’s no fun living in an institution,” he said.
The decrease in patient population at Clarks Summit is a result of several factors, primarily:
• The implementation of the Community Hospital Integration Projects Program, or CHIPP;
• Advancements in pharmacological treatment for many patients;
• Enhancements to the community mental health system, which provide alternatives to state hospital inpatient treatment, according to DPW.
DPW spokesman Eric Kiehl said, though, there are no plans to close the Clarks Summit facility or lay off staff.
Declining mental facility populations is part of a national trend based on the new vision of a mental health system that does not include long-term stays in state hospitals, according to DPW.
CHIPP began providing funding in 1991 for community services for discharged patients and it provides diversionary services for at-risk persons in the community. According to DPW, CHIPP creates services to support those with a long-term history of hospitalization or other complex needs so that they can live in the community.
Kiehl said the state oversees the community living arrangements where many former patients live.
“The goal is to move some of those folks back into the community,” he said. “We work with families, consumers and everyone else to find what’s best for those consumers.”
He said the community living arrangements for former patients are typically run by a local organization that DPW monitors and licenses.
Staff writer Jennifer Learn-Andes contributed to this story.