KINGSTON —Thanks to a $6 million renovation, many fewer psychiatric patients and their families will have to travel hours away to receive treatment and offer support.
Commonwealth Health is expanding behavioral health resources in Northeastern Pennsylvania with the addition of 20 inpatient adult psychiatric beds at First Hospital. The new beds are dedicated to care for the most complex acute behavioral health cases, increasing the hospital’s capacity to 127 beds, a growth of nearly 20 percent.
“The biggest issue is that a lot of residents of this community have to go down to the Philadelphia area when there is a lack of psych beds,” First Hospital CEO Mark Schor said before a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the hospital on Monday.
With the closure of the approximately 20-bed psych unit at Marian Community Hospital in Carbondale last year, First Hospital has been seeing more and more residents leaving the area for behavioral health treatment — anywhere between 50 and 100 each month, Schor said.
“This expansion and hopefully others down the road will reduce the number of people who have to go out of the area. When somebody goes out of the area for treatment, it’s much more difficult for the families to participate in care and for case management services to be involved,” Schor said.
People who suffer from acute psychiatric disorders and associated behaviors many times end up being picked up by police and taken to local emergency rooms for evaluations. Many times they require psychiatric evaluations, and when completed, the task of trying to find an appropriate setting begins, he said.
“Where are they going to go and how fast? You don’t want people who are suffering like that to languish in an ER. And so many times, people of that level of acuity do languish there, which is bad for them and bad for the other patients trying to get medical care because they can be disruptive,” Schor said.
So in addition to helping patients receive treatment locally, the new unit also will help to transition them out of emergency rooms and into an appropriate setting faster.
Schor said the incidence of psychiatric disorders hasn’t changed much, but there is a heightened visibility, given recent mass shootings and other events in the news. “There are not many people who don’t know a family member of their family or a friend’s family who isn’t affected in some way by mental illness or substance abuse,” he said.
In addition to the new unit, further renovations completed across the hospital create a more welcoming environment and reorganize the space to better support counseling, patient services and administrative functions, according to a statement.
“This expansion enhances our ability to care for patients with the most complex, acute behavioral health concerns,” said Dr. David Liskov, medical director of First Hospital.
Cornelio Catena, CEO of Commonwealth Health, noted that the facility is the former Nesbitt Hospital, which was founded 30 years ago. The 700 employees who make up First Hospital and the system’s behavioral health services treat about 10,000 patients a year, 4,000 of them at First Hospital. “We are exceedingly proud of the great job they do,” he said.
Kingston Mayor James Haggerty said the facility is important to the community and he is delighted to see it “used in a productive way, in an important way and in a way that serves a great community and a great area here in the Wyoming Valley.”
Schor thanked Haggerty and the Kingston community “for opening its arms and supporting our campus and (helping it) and this city (to be) known as a place that people come for healing and recovery and a place where they come to change the course and direction of their lives in a positive way.”
The 20-bed unit is just the beginning of expansion and support of behavioral health services by Community Health Systems and area groups that support the programs, Schor said. He and staff are excited that the area’s first regional crisis triage center for psychiatry will be opening in Wilkes-Barre General Hospital’s former emergency rooms, probably sometime this summer.
Finally, he thanked the employees and staff “who dedicated their lives and efforts to treating the most vulnerable members of our community and for supporting our organization, many of them for their entire careers.”