SUN psychiatric hospital proposal: Downstate support meets upstate opposition


GEORGETOWN – The general consensus at the Sept. 29 public hearing on Sun Behavioral Health’s proposed psychiatric hospital in Georgetown was there are definitely unmet mental health needs in Sussex County.

Opinion differed on project size and scope.

Support predominantly from Sussex County and specified concern and opposition from upstate punctuated testimony at the final hearing before the Delaware Health Resources Board.

Sun Behavioral Health is proposing to build a 90-bed psychiatric hospital, offering short-term in-patient hospitalization and outpatient treatment.

“Having the facility here in Georgetown is going to bring the services closer to where they are needed,” said State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown. ”That is something that is extremely important.”

Jean-Charles Constant, CEO of Dover Behavioral Health System, and John McKenna, CEO of the Rockford Center, an established behavioral healthcare provider in Newark, dispute the ratio of unmet needs.

“What we are opposed to is the scale of this project, because we firmly believe that it will over-bed the state,” said Mr. McKenna, adding their belief is “very heavily weighted in in-patient beds and not what the community really needs … more robust community based services.”

“I wholeheartedly agree Sussex County has a lack of mental health (services). A 90-bed facility I don’t think is warranted,” said Mr. Constant.

7 SUN steve page

SUN Behavioral Health CEO Steve Page presents information on the 90-bed psychiatric hospital to be located in Georgetown.

Steve Page, Sun Behavioral Health president/CEO, outlined Sun’s plans for the facility, which would be located across from Delaware Technical Community College at the intersection of U.S. 113 and Rt. 404.

The facility would have “24/7 assessment service, short-term inpatient hospitalization and outpatient services that are fairly intense, Mr. Page said.

In-patient stays would mirror the national average of seven to eight days, Mr. Page said.

“We look across the country for communities that don’t have enough behavioral health services,” said Mr. Page.

Beebe Healthcare CEO Jeff Fried, whose meeting a year ago with Sun representatives precipitated discussion with fellow downstate healthcare providers Nanticoke Health Service and Bayhealth, noted that mental health services at one time were provided by hospitals but over time those programs closed due to several factors.

“No. 1 they weren’t able to operate them cost effectively,” said Mr. Fried. “Here we are in 2015 and there are no inpatient services available (in Sussex).”

According to Mr. Fried, Beebe from 2012 to present has averaged between 42 and 59 mental health transfer cases monthly.

“We continue to have a real need,” said Mr. Fried.

“People are criminalized because they sick, they are getting handcuffed. They are getting transported in a police vehicle, waiting hours in the emergency department,” said Mr. Page.

Attorney John Sandy offered his insight as a criminal defense lawyer.

“The criminal justice system is no way to deal with the mentally ill. It is a terrible way to deal with addiction,” Mr. Sandy said. “I would certainly hope that Sun is given the opportunity to provide these services to our community so that people like me don’t have to stand in front of a judge and argue that someone is bi-polar and should receive different treatment than someone who is not bi-polar.”

Georgetown resident Jim Martin, a recoving addict whose advocacy work includes the A.C.E. Peer Center in Seaford and three-quarter houses, fully supports Sun’s proposal.

“We need that kind of option in our menu of services,” Mr. Martin said. “I do believe based on the work that I see every day that a large population of folks that are at Sussex Correctional right now are struggling with mental health problems. I see it every day. We definitely have a need, from my vantage point.”

State Representative Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, offered a snapshot of Sussex County. She noted the recent death of a seven-year-old child and newborns being hospitalized upon their birth because of their mothers having been addicted to drugs.

“We must, as a community, break this cycle that we face in Sussex County. This would be a community based program … assistance with depression, assistance with addiction …,” said Rep. Briggs King. “Can we do better? I think we can. Must we do better? I think we should.”

Not all local residents are totally sold on the idea.

“I resonate with what everybody has been saying about the need here. There is no question,” said Susan Phillips, who shared the efforts undertaken to secure treatment for her schizophrenic/autistic son. “But can you deliver without disrupting what we have in place and taking the people who are already here into your program and then not being able to deliver … and disappoint us all. I’m kind of in the middle. But I will be a biggest supporter if you can add to that.”

Hunter Hastings, who served an internship at the A.C.E. Peer Center, said that the only certified psychiatric centers are currently located upstate, making distance a factor in that some people will not seek treatment.

“Having something closer I think will change that,” Mr. Hastings said. “There are many individuals like me who attempt to tackle the mental health pandemic from a grass-root perspective, creating support groups advocating legislation for mentally ill and building peer centers. But there is only so much grassroots advocates can do without some help from the professional resources. I believe myself and many others are seeing that problem right here in Sussex County. This psychiatric hospital will help put a dent in this pandemic and help many of us have peace when we lay down at night, knowing those who suffer are in safe hands.”

Mr. McKenna, in his presentation, said the issue is being addressed with a brand new in-patient substance abuse and detox center in Harrington, “which is about to open in next two to four weeks.”

“What we can tell you … all of the existing providers over the last 12 months have seen approximately between 1,200 and 1,300 Sussex County residents coming to the existing facilities in our state. With the average length stay – as we talk about a 5 to 7 day – that group represents a need of approximately 18 to 20 beds,” Mr. McKenna said.


“In summary we absolutely support a new provider coming to our state. However we believe that the unmet need is really a facility to the tune of 20 to 30 beds, and we also strongly suggest that the outpatient being proposed by the applicant significantly increase …,” said Mr. McKenna, who said 94 percent of Sun’s revenue is projected to be generated from in-patient care. “We suggest that that should be flip-flopped to provide more community-based services.”

The Delaware Health Resources Board will vote on the proposal at a future meeting.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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