WellSpan Health is investing about $7 million in the mental health of Lebanon County by expanding its Philhaven campus in Mount Gretna.

The expansion will add 24 inpatient beds to the facility, WellSpan Health officials told LebTown on Oct. 21.

“The availability of inpatient beds was critical in meeting the community’s needs, so patients can receive the right treatment at the right time and the right place,” Mantha Kotsalos, senior director of inpatient services and interim president for WellSpan Philhaven, said in a telephone interview.

Work on the project is expected to be completed by January, Kotsalos said. When finished, it will bring the total number of beds at Philhaven-Mount Gretna to 140.

The Mount Gretna location, sited on 200 acres, last expanded when it added 15 beds in 2019.

Existing spaces have been repurposed so the construction work won’t impact on operations at the facility, Kotsalos said. Work is expected to be completed by the end of January.

The Philhaven expansion is part of a $31 million project that also includes growth at the WellSpan York Hospital campus in York County. The York expansion “will provide care teams and patients with a modernized, state-of-the-art environment,” a press release explains. “The unit will offer acute, medical, sub-acute and step-down pods, dedicated serenity spaces and seclusion spaces, as well as private and group therapy spaces.”

WellSpan Philhaven teams across the region annually serve 64,000 patients with behavioral health needs across WellSpan’s six counties, the press release says.

“At this point we do not plan for additional expansion to our inpatient facilities,” Dr. Shannon Terrell Gordon, a licensed certified social worker and vice president of WellSpan’s Behavioral Health Network, told LebTown.

“We are looking at expanding our outpatient facilities,” she added. “But we won’t be doing any other expansions for at least a year — unless there are grant opportunities.”

A growing need

“It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a nationwide shortage of health care professionals has created a mental health crisis, but it is one we will face head on with the resources of one of the largest behavioral health programs in the country,” Kotsalos said.

“Spread the message,” Gordon added: “One in five people experiences a mental health challenge at some point in their lives, and one in seven who drink or use experience a usage disorder.

“We’re a place of hope and help, and we want to serve the community.”

Yet fewer than half of those with a mental health condition receive treatment, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Locally, WellSpan Health saw a 30 percent increase in behavioral health patients through September of this year, compared to the same timeframe in 2021, Kotsalos said.

“That’s quite an increase” she said. “And, in addition to needing additional beds, our focus was on improving critical care … as well as ensuring our patients receive evidence-based treatments while they’re with us and ensuring we have the ideal space to offer those treatments.”

Gordon said the COVID-19 pandemic “increased the incidence and prevalence of mental health and substance abuse challenges.” But also, she said, “there is a greater awareness (of mental health issues) in the culture, and a greater awareness to talk about it without stigma.

“There are additional pressures that are non-pandemic related — inflation, job transitions, etc. — that can also contribute to anxiety and depression.”

A growing staff

The expansion carries with it a need for more professional and support staff in the WellSpan network. Kotsalos said the expansion project in Mount Gretna “will ultimately lead to a potential of 50 to 55 staff” to provide services for the additional beds.

“About 35 of those new employees would be direct care staff: RNs, LPNs and psychiatric technicians,” she explained. The additional new hires will provide support services.

WellSpan is “actively recruiting” new staff, she added. “But we do not anticipate there will be challenges in finding them.”

Gordon noted that WellSpan “has been identified as the county’s best employer … and people who choose to join our team have opportunities for career advancement through tuition reimbursement and training.”

They’re hoping to attract “the best and the brightest from our area,” she said.

There are also plans in the near future to improve local access to outpatient care, giving people quicker access to needed services, Gordon said.

Often, patients who need behavioral health services turn to emergency departments for care, she said. Over the past three years, WellSpan has seen a 100 percent increase in behavioral health visits at its emergency departments.

“Lots of people are going to Good Sam [WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital at 4th and Walnut streets, Lebanon] for their mental health needs,” Gordon said. “We want them to access care in the outpatient arena first.”

Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

Do you want to see more from LebTown?

Support local news. Cancel anytime.

Already a member? Login here

Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.

Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.