The recognition of a regional need ultimately culminated in Penn Highlands Healthcare’s plan to invest millions in an expansion of its behavioral health services at its campus off of Maple Avenue.
“We’re on a journey that started a couple years ago,” Richard Nenneau, service line director of behavioral health for Penn Highlands, said. “I had moved here from northeast Mississippi to become the service line director. I became very curious about the region and the needs in the region. As I started looking at our referral information, I was amazed at how many patients we turned away for services.”
Nenneau said he began to question just how many patients were being turned down and why.
“At the end of the day, one of the biggest factors was capacity,” he said. “There are tremendous behavioral health and substance abuse treatment needs in this region. Not only in the primary 12 county region that we service but in the 21 county area that is our catchment area. I started to look at the numbers and started to talk to senior management about that. We decided maybe we should expand what we do. Maybe we should grow. That discussion has led us to where we are today, where plans are in place and the organization is committed to this project. We’re poised to grow to better meet the needs in the region.”
According to Nenneau, one factor driving the need is a shrinking number of inpatient facilities.
“Its really hard to know what drives people away from providing mental health services,” he said. “When you look at state hospitals across the country, you see beds closing. I think there’s an economic reality there. The fact remains that there is a percentage of folks that really struggle to live in community-based programs and end up going in and out of inpatient psychiatric units. You wonder how cost effective in the long run that is.”
He said despite the economic factors, Penn Highlands decided to move ahead with an expansion anyway.
“It’s the right thing to do. We have a commitment to this area, to this region, to provide these services,” Nenneau said. “Between Pittsburgh and Philly, there’s not a whole lot. This is a core part of our mission in taking care of providing the types of services needed in the region. Very simply it boils down to because it’s the right thing to do.”
That commitment means provision of services to people from the area will take precedence over referrals from outside the region.
“Our priority is with our immediate 12 counties that would be our primary catchment area,” he said. “That would be our primary service region, but the the larger 21 county region is also a priority for us. I suspect with some of the services that we’re going to be providing that we will get referrals from all over the Commonwealth, as well as out of state. I know we will. It happens already. But we’re looking at the region. That’s our primary focus.”
Despite expanding what is offered in-house, Nenneau said Penn Highlands will continue to work with other providers of behavioral health services in the region.
“We already work with organizations within the community and have for years,” he said. “We’re very committed. We’ll absolutely continue. I would suggest to you those relationships will become strengthened in all of this growth. We can’t exist in isolation. Just as community groups rely on us for our experience and expertise, we too rely on them. They provide some service in the community that we don’t. We rely on them, just as they rely on us for services that we provide. It’s a very good relationship back and forth.”