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Commissioners discuss county mental health services

by on June 28, 2019 12:28 PM

BELLEFONTE – In light of recent community conversations regarding the lack of necessary mental health services, county commissioners discussed two aspects of services in the county at the June 25 board meeting — a mental health crisis assessment center and a nationwide initiative for mental health awareness in the prison.

This comes before the county’s “Community Conversation about Mental Health Services in Centre County” event from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 27 at the Courthouse Annex.


After looking for a way to provide a place for people to turn to when they are in a mental health crisis, the county is seeking to begin contract negations with a provider for the service in Centre County.

The county received three bids for the service, but the commissioners are considering the proposal from Center for Community Resources from Butler County. When the plan for the center was first conceived, the county had hoped to include a residential aspect to provide short-term shelter for people in crisis, but received no bids from providers for that service.

The county dropped the residential aspect of the program and is now looking to provide a center for people in crisis to turn when they need help. The facility is proposed to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

CCR has a history of providing this service in other counties around the state.

People in crisis can come to the program from many different avenues, but always on their own free will, said county Mental Health Administrator Natalie Corman.

“We really look at this from a number of different entry points… kind of a ‘no wrong door opportunity.’ So law enforcement, when they are engaging with an individual, can have them walk in the door, the individual themselves, a provider, the schools, if they think they have someone who needs assessed, all those people can walk someone in. A lot of it is really being able to provide them an opportunity to discuss what their crisis is and figure out what exactly we can provide for them for immediate resources. Whether that is hospitalization, if they want it, or whether that is just having someone to talk to face-to-face. Whether that is being linked to services for the first time, it is a variety of different options. It is all voluntary. It is not hospitalization. It is not a residential program as we had previously put out there. It is really the opportunity to go there and get the immediate assistance for a non-medical need. It doesn’t take away from what the ER does. But it does address that crisis and get them to the next opportunity,” said Corman.
A location for the program is still to be decided, but Commissioner Mark Higgins suggested they find a space central to Centre County’s densest population.

“Somewhere in the State College, Bellefonte region, preferably closer to a bus line,” he said.

The commissioners decided to table contract negations until further information about the location and cost of some of the services will be available. They tentatively plan to look again at the issue at the July 8 meeting, but they agreed that the program looks to be a benefit for the county.

“It does allow us to have another avenue for people to go into mental health services and begin their journey to recovery,” said Commissioner Michael Pipe.


Having made some efforts recently to look and improve mental health services for inmates at the Centre County Correctional Facility, the county is looking to become part of “Stepping Up” — a nationwide initiative concerned with mental health services in prisons and jails. Commissioners plan to present a resolution to next week’s consent agenda.

“What it is is really linking the two worlds — the criminal justice world and the correction facility world to the mental health world, to make sure that there are opportunities and services for individuals in our criminal justice system to address their mental health needs,” said state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte. “The Stepping Up Initiative really was for counties to step up and recognize if there were gaps, if there were needs, if there were opportunities that needed to be addressed. We are two teams that work together every day. I think we are looking at if there are opportunities, other evidence-based best practiced processes that we can bring to Centre County.”

“It is a good way to check a balance for both parties. One to make sure that we are doing everything we can do and also balance with the outside organizations and make sure we are not missing anything in the big spectrum,” said CCCF warden Christopher Schell.

Commissioner Pipe said the initiatives are a good opportunity to receive grants and funding for outside sources.

“This was started several years ago, but it is a partnership from the National Association of Counties the Council of State Government and the American Psychiatric Foundation, and also with the U.S. Department of Justice. We have had success in our drug court getting funds from the DJA to start up that court for operation costs. So there are models out there for doing these nationwide or statewide initiatives. Funding can become available,” said Pipe. “What this does is it calls out some things we have been doing as a county team and also some of these things that are about to be done or launched in the correctional facility — essentially it is a framework that allows us, the courts and the correctional facility to have a framework to work within.”

He said it also will help to collect data and determine success rates, and “hopefully, reduce the amount of individuals who have mental illness in the facility.”

Pipe went on to highlight the Behavior Modification Status Program that was started at the facility over a year ago to help those with mental health concerns in the facility. It is a step program that helps prisoners step out of confinement, said Schell.

“We weren’t doing anything incorrectly, but I thought we could do things better. So we developed this behavior modification status tier steps. So we try to get them a peer mentor, step two. Step three. We try to get them out in the population some more. And then step four is to get them back out into the population, functioning and restored back to the best person that they could be,” said Schell.
The facility also developed a forensic mental health review team with the public defender and the district attorney.

“We are trying to get people with mental health issues up to court a little sooner if we to get the competency evaluation or something they need a little bit sooner there,” said Schell.

He said they also added a weekly mental health review team to identify and review treatment plans.

“It is a growing development with our behavior modification status, but I think it is a great start, and I think by doing Stepping Up it will give us the checks and balances I mention before,” said Schell.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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