WILKES-BARRE — Concerns about United Rehabilitation Services closing its doors were put to rest —at least temporarily — Thursday night when a county mental health executive said there were no indications the nonprofit would close within the next month.
“At this point, we don’t know if they’re going to close,” Jim Davis, interim executive of the Luzerne-Wyoming Counties Mental Health and Developmental Services, said during the MHDS public hearing at its offices on North Pennsylvania Avenue. “We don’t think they are.”
He said URS must give a 60-day notice in writing to clients and a 45-day notice in writing to the county agency if it is going to close.
“That hasn’t happened yet,” he said.
Davis also told concerned parents of some URS clients that MHDS was looking at other options for the services.
“We’re advertising for RFPs, requests for proposals, so other agencies have the opportunity to submit proposals to run this kind of service,” Davis said.
URS helps people with physical and mental disabilities develop job skills to help them become employable and more independent. The private nonprofit had planned to close its centers in Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Tunkhannock this month, in part due to financial issues. That would have meant the loss of about 110 jobs.
The organization serves more than 500 people from Luzerne, Wyoming and surrounding counties and offers training and employment programs such as school-to-work transitioning, according to the agency’s website.
Local state legislators have expressed concern about the potential closing and getting involved, Davis said.
Davis told the concerned parents at the hearing that county officials met with the URS board and asked the executive director to keep clients, family and staff updated on developments.
One of those parents, Barbara Kraynak of Harding, whose daughter has worked at the Wilkes-Barre URS site since 1983, also said she was concerned about conditions at the site. She told the MHDS advisory board the improvements made at the site, such as a fire door and parent meetings, were because parents pushed for them.
“We requested improvements, and to clean it up,” Kraynak said after the hearing.
Marguerite Ciannelli of Hughestown, whose daughter also has worked since 1983 at the Wilkes-Barre URS doing assembly work, said after the hearing, “The working conditions at the Wilkes-Barre site are not the greatest.”
Davis said he heard similar testimony at a public hearing at URS in Tunkhannock on Wednesday evening, and those concerns were expressed to the URS board.
The advisory board, which includes Davis, Raelene Daring and Luzerne County Human Services Director David Schwille, also heard concerns at the hearing about whether there are enough community services for people with mental health issues who are reaching adulthood; affordable transportation; the treatment and care of the mentally ill who are released from hospitals into the community; treatment for youths; housing for the homeless mentally ill, and sensitivity training for teachers.
Schwille told a woman concerned about the treatment of released patients that since last year, the county has created a treatment team, as well as a crisis residence that is an alternative to a hospital stay.
A third hearing to hear public input on county mental health services is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at United Rehabilitation Services, 489 W. Broad St., Hazleton.