Blue Mountain Health System plans to offer a new outpatient service at its Bowmanstown facility.

Nancy Hersch, director of behavioral health, told members of the Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that the Blue Mountain Health System Medical Plaza at 512 Bank Street will be the site for an acute partial hospitalization program.

Hersch said the facility is nearly renovated to allow for physician offices, outpatient behavioral health, and a new community room that may be utilized by the public.

It's imperative to have a good discharge plan for clients, said Hersch, who added the program will be offered five days a week, Monday through Friday, six hours a day. The maximum capacity will be 15 clients, she said.

"When patients are discharged from the behavioral health unit, we want to discharge them with a plan of continuum of care to reduce relapse and readmission," Hersch said. "A major part of this plan is an acute partial hospitalization, which is a step down from inpatient treatment."

Clients in acute partial hospitalization will receive the same programming as an inpatient unit, said Hersch, who added there will be a psychiatrist, nurse practitioner, licensed clinical social worker, a behavioral health RN, a behavioral therapist, and an allied therapist.

The program will be based on the recovery model, and will address group psychotherapy, goals, loss and grieving, interpersonal relationships, substance abuse and recovery, education, families/coupled therapy, and individuals therapy, she said. In addition, it will offer wellness groups on smoking cessation, nutrition, and substance abuse, as well as many other subjects that are relevant, Hersch said.

"The average length of stay is approximately two to four weeks, but is based on individual needs," she said. "Upon discharge, there is a coordination of care with outpatient providers and community support, and clients can call us for support and direction if they feel they are in danger of relapse or a crisis situation."

Hersch said plans for the future are to have a personal care physician on site during operating hours to allow patients to also have their medical needs addressed.

The requirements for clients to be admitted to the program are that they must have a valid psychiatric diagnosis, Hersch said.

"Mental health illness is one of the most misunderstood illnesses," she said. "The biggest hurdle they face is that the illness continues to be perceived as a weakness."

Hersch thanked Andrew Harris, president/Chief Executive Officer, and Blue Mountain Health System, for their support.

Harris said "we know that behavioral health is a serious issue here in Carbon County."

He noted that four years ago, BMHS opened a geriatric inpatient 16-bed-unit at the Palmerton campus, which has since been expanded to a 20-bed-unit, as well as a 22-bed-unit nearly three years ago at the Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital campus.

Peter Kern, president of the chamber, said "it's important that we understand the problems associated with behavioral health, and help them deal with it."

The contact number for anyone in a mental health crisis is (484) 629-5091.