The State of Mental Health in Lancaster County

May is Mental Health Month! We recently sat down with Emily Pressley, D.O., a psychiatrist with Penn/Lancaster General Health and Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation Board Chair to get her thoughts on the availability of mental health services in Lancaster County.

LOHF_Team__0012_13How long have you worked with Penn/Lancaster General Health?
I’ve been with Penn/Lancaster General Health for about thirteen years and most of that time has been spent on the inpatient mental health unit. I currently serve as the medical director of the inpatient unit. Previously, I worked as a nurse for many years at Community Hospital which game me a multi-faceted experience with patient care.

In your opinion, what is the current state of mental health in Lancaster County?
In the past five years, the inpatient mental health unit has grown from 5 to 36 beds. But the need for mental health services in Lancaster County far exceeds this capacity. My unit sends about 58% of patients needing psychiatric admission to other hospitals. And there still does not exist a child and adolescent inpatient unit in Lancaster County so young people who need inpatient psychiatric care must be sent elsewhere, often to other parts of the state. This situation alone adds to the stress of the family and makes an already difficult situation much worse.

What strategies has Penn/Lancaster General used to address mental health?
Penn/Lancaster General Health plans to build a freestanding hospital in partnership with another provider to serve the growing mental health needs of the community. The hospital will include acute and adult units, duel diagnosis unit for patients with substance abuse, an adolescent unit and a geriatric psychiatry unit. The biggest challenges facing the Lancaster mental health community is lack of access to psychiatrists, especially child physiatrists along with the scarcity of inpatient mental health beds. Also, a shortage exists of supportive living environments for the chronically mentally ill and long waits for the State Hospital that puts a strain on acute care units.

What are the biggest issues regarding mental health nationally?
As a nation, I believe that the incarceration of the mentally ill while lacking adequate treatment and resources has created a huge problem for our society. And the surging opiate addiction epidemic that is mostly affecting our young people demands immediate action. We are losing so many young people to addiction.

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