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We are facing a national mental health crisis. It’s even more critical in northeastern and central Pennsylvania and has only been exacerbated by COVID-19.

Trends locally in central and northeastern Pennsylvania mirror a 2020 Mental Health America Report that estimates 47 million Americans struggle with mental health – 4 million more than 2018. Our area’s most recent Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) lists behavioral health as one of the area’s top three public health needs with local suicide rates and sad and depressed youth numbers surpassing state and national averages.

For decades, our close-knit communities have struggled to make high-quality mental health care more accessible – challenges compounded by financial struggles, food insecurity and more.
Mental health does not discriminate. It touches young and old, rich and poor and all races, religions, and political beliefs. We can all agree that solving this crisis is truly necessary and worthy of support.

On March 30 our region took a big collective step forward when Geisinger announced a joint venture with Acadia Healthcare to invest $80 million into two new freestanding psychiatric hospitals in Moosic and Danville opening in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Not only will these facilities provide critically needed psychiatric services – including serving our schools – but will also create 200 new jobs.

But most importantly, when someone with mental health issues arrives in a local emergency room, these two new hospitals will offer a place for them to get specialized care they need, with the expertise and resources to get them on a path to better health.

Perhaps most exciting are the opportunities this venture creates to expand on work already underway locally, such as Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s Behavioral Health Initiative, which was created to integrate behavioral and physical health; a psychiatric residency program in collaboration with The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education; and expansions to GCSOM’s behavioral health curriculum for up-and-coming regional providers.

While no one project can address all of our behavioral health needs, Geisinger and Acadia’s joint venture is just the bold, innovative thinking needed to solve our mental health crisis. These new hospitals deserve our support and I hope they will inspire more innovative ideas to address our mental health crisis.

This editorial also appeared in The Daily Item on May 1, 2021, and Scranton Times-Tribune on May 2, 2021.

Virginia McGregor
Virginia McGregor of Scranton is a member of the Geisinger Health Board of Directors and is chair of the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine Board of Directors.  
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