Psychiatric hospital proposal in Georgetown: Supporters cite need in Sussex

30 SUN behavorial project layout

A rendering of Sun Behavioral Health’s proposal psychiatric hospital in Georgetown.

GEORGETOWN – Supporters of a downstate psychiatric facility are hoping the sun shines on Sussex County.

State Representative Ruth Briggs King and Jim Martin, director of the ACE Peer Resource Center, are encouraging residents to attend a public hearing next week on a proposal to build a 90-bed psychiatric hospital in Georgetown.

The hearing on the application by Sun Behavioral Health will be held by the Delaware Health Resources Board Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. in the Carter Partnership Center at Delaware Technical Community College’s Jack F. Owens Campus.

“Really, our voice needs to be heard. It is inning No. 1 of a 9-inning game,” said Mr. Martin. “Right now the batters are up and we need our voice to be heard. When you want to do healthcare in Delaware, you have to go through the Health Resources Board. That is the first step. You have to document the need.”

“For anybody that has been engaged in either the medical healthcare field or had people that need services, they know that we are desperately lacking in mental health facilities and providers in Sussex,” said Rep. Briggs King.

“Sun Behavioral Health had put in a proposal. Any time there is certain medical services that want to come to an area, there has to be a justification need,” said Rep. Briggs King. “They were moving through the process and then toward the end another for-profit group from upstate said that they didn’t think that there was need. So then it has to go to public hearing. So basically a competing firm that provides services in New Castle County disputes the need in Sussex.”

“I think that the state is prudent to have a Resources Board and to look at certificates of need,” said Nanticoke Health Services CEO Steve Rose. “If somebody came in and said they wanted to build an acute care hospital, I’d probably be saying, ‘Well, wait a minute, we have one here. Why would need anymore? But the one that we definitely, positively, absolutely to have to have is behavioral health. And again it is not just about the in-patient thing, it’s about the whole service that they provide. This is access to critical care.”

“There is no help available; a lot of people think that,” Mr. Martin said. “If you’re trying to get help for a loved one in Sussex County, you basically can’t. You have no options.”

So you just don’t treat it.”

Rep. Briggs King attended the last meeting on this proposal and specifically requested that the venue for the next meeting be held in Sussex County so individuals most impacted by Sun Behavioral Health’s application to construct a psychiatric facility would have the ability to attend.

In August, Rep. Briggs King submitted to the Delaware Health Resources Board a letter of support for the new hospital, stating that the need for in-patient mental health services in Sussex County is great.

“Historically, 40 or more years ago, some of the local hospitals had a small percentage where they would admit some psychiatric patients,” said Rep. Briggs King. “Not that we ever had a lot but we lost key service providers. So that meant you are either crossing state lines or you are going upstate for treatment.”

“We know in Sussex County that we have an aging population. And sometimes geriatrics has particular challenges with depression, with dementia, or other related needs,” said Rep. Briggs King. “And then you can add on top of that the challenges we have in Sussex County with drug addiction. You can look at suicide rates. We know we have a myriad of challenges for mental health services.”

“In our Delaware hospital association we have talked many times about lack of behavioral health resources. It’s not just about the facility – the bricks and mortar – it’s really about all of they provide because there will be a 90-bed in-patient but there will also be out-patient services,” Mr. Rose. “All of those go hand in hand. What they will be able to do is recruit psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers to provide all of that support that is necessary for Sussex County.”

Mr. Rose added that “we really don’t have the right resources down here. Our closest facility is in Dover. And I can tell you on any given in our emergency department we are holding a patient who is waiting for placement in that facility up in Dover. Those patients sometimes stay a couple of days here at Nanticoke. We don’t have a psychiatrist here; we don’t have a psychologist here. So that is two days that they are not getting access to the care that they need.”

“The state has put in an interim measure where they set up in Ellendale, they have a few holding beds more or less. But as soon as those beds are filled we are right back to square one,” Mr. Rose said.

In her correspondence, Rep. Briggs King also stated that “through personal family experience I know the challenges and difficulties that Sussex County residents must endure when faced with mental health care needs. The lack of available beds, opportunities to visit, or participate in a plan of care are all impacted by the distance of the nearest facility. As a medical professional for over 20 years, I am ever mindful of our first and foremost duty, ‘do no harm.’”

In pitching its Georgetown Psychiatric Hospital project, Sun Behavioral notes:

  • Beebe, Nanticoke and BayHealth reached out to SUN to discuss the gaps in behavioral health services in their community;
  • absence of a complete behavioral health continuum in Sussex County forces a large group of patients to seek treatment far away from home;
  • Sussex county has over 500 medical beds and no private behavioral health beds;
  • A shortage of community options means more people in psychiatric crisis;
  • With a lack of options patients return to care again and again;
  • Delivery of behavioral health in coordination with general medical care can reduce costs and improve outcomes for patients

Sun Behavioral Health projects that an estimated 3,500 patients a year at risk of harming themselves or others will be stabilized in a safe, caring and comfortable environment.

Over 150 fulltime equivalent employees will be required to operate the facility when fully operational, not counting construction jobs needed to build the 70,000 square foot hospital in College Park that already features two healthcare facilities.

“We already have a health complex, having La Red and Beebe there,” said Rep. Briggs King. “Now if you add another component, the mental health component, and then its relationship to the Owens Campus, which has many medical programs. There is the ability for interns and training. Student exposure to mental health training is limited right now because our facilities are limited here.”

“This is almost a blessing for us. In Sussex County and all of Delaware, a couple years ago we had a very high teen suicide rate. All of the hospitals – Nanticoke, Bayhealth and Beebe – are all involved in the high school wellness programs,” Mr. Rose said. “The biggest need is all around behavioral health. We are not able to give them the resources they need. Now we have an opportunity to refer them to the specialists that they need.”

Mr. Rose noted Sussex County’s aging population.

“Among our elderly population, depression is running rampant. It is a serious problem,” Mr. Rose said. “When we talk about the Medicare population we talk about these comorbid conditions. So what that means is that a lot of us over 65 have more than one issue; you have diabetes, you have hypertension; and along with that you might have depression. Depression is critical.”

“It’s a one stop shop for healthcare,” said Mr. Martin, who has registered to speak at the public hearing. “I think it makes sense. A lot of people have said it makes sense.”

“This is good economic growth,” said Rep. Briggs King. “It’s where a company has identified a need and they want to come in and provide services. It could fill a lot of needs in Sussex, hopefully.”

About Sun Behavioral Health

SUN Behavioral Health was formed by a group of professionals with more than 50 years of combined experience in the behavioral health industry. It provides services in five states, with over 800 behavioral health beds caring for over 15,000 patients per year.

Sun’s Services

Hospital based services include: Inpatient Psychiatric; Partial Hospitalization; Intensive Outpatient; Assessment and Placement; Patient risk assessment: 24-hours mobile service; Crisis stabilization; Partner with Educators; Medical/Nursing Schools; Schools of Social Work; Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Services:; Psychiatric Intensive Care; Co-Occurring Disorders; Detox and Rehab; Faith-based; Military; Pain Management; Patients: children through geriatric.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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