GEORGETOWN – Gov. Jack Markell was among the speakers Wednesday at the groundbreaking for SUN Behavioral Health’s new hospital in Georgetown.
During his eight years in office, Gov. Jack Markell said he has visited practically every school in Delaware.
“And it is incredible to me, probably the No. 1 thing I hear from the principals … that the single biggest need is for more mental health counseling in our schools,” said Gov. Markell. “This is an issue that cannot be swept under the rug. For too long there has been so much stigma attached to a number of these diseases. And let’s face it and recognize it for what they are; they are diseases that are treatable if we are willing to talk about it and if we are willing to invest in the necessary treatments.”
Desperately-needed treatment in lower Delaware looms over the horizon, possibly in spring 2018 following Wednesday’s ground-breaking for New Jersey-based SUN Behavioral Health’s new 90-bed behavioral health hospital in Georgetown’s College Park development.
Town of Georgetown, Sussex County and state officials were among those on hand at the future site of the two-story, 93-square-foot specialty hospital that will provide inpatient and outpatient services.
“This will be a hospital that really is part of a community-wide solution,” said Steve Page, Sun Behavioral Health CEO. “We are just a piece in the pattern. This will be part of a community effort to solve mental illness and addiction disorders for those suffering in Sussex County. This hopefully will be an important missing piece.”
The SUN acronym stands for: Solving Unmet Needs.
“Our mission is to partner with communities, to solve unmet needs for those suffering from mental illness and addiction disorders,” said Mr. Page. “We know we can’t do this alone.”
Initial talk of the project was spurred by concerns and needs voiced to SUN by CEOs from three downstate health-care institutions: Jeffrey Fried (Beebe Healthcare), Terry Murphy (Bayhealth) and Steve Rose (Nanticoke Health Services).
“We were able to assess the need,” said Mr. Page.
“Frankly, if the hospital CEOs had not been supportive … this would not have happened,” said Gov. Markell.
Georgetown Mayor Bill West had several reasons to celebrate.
“Today is a great day for two reasons,” said Mayor West. “No. 1: it’s my birthday. And I can’t think of a better place to be today than standing right here. This is important. This is a service that has been well overdue.”
The Town of Georgetown and the state legislature helped expedite the project. Among the dignitaries on hand were legislators who sponsored and supported Senate Bill 226. That legislation amended Delaware code relating to health planning and resources management, which unlocked the door for the SUN project to proceed.
SUN’s proposal for Sussex County had met opposition from several upstate mental health providers. Their challenge went to the Delaware Health Resources Board.
“The legislators have been amazing,” said Mr. Page. “We got a little stuck in our process. There was an appeal that would have delayed us up to two years. We really thought we were going to be seeing the process stalled. The legislators stepped in and freed the project through legislation which Gov. Markell signed into law this spring.”
“Certainly the legislators did step in in a pretty assertive way to get this done when it looked like it was going to slow down,” said Gov. Markell.
“We know people need to be treated with social justice and equality,” said state Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, co-sponsor of SB 226. “We really get it in Delaware.”
On the economic front, DEDO Director Bernice Whaley said SUN is investing $34 million in the project while creating 130 new jobs.
She further noted that the facility will be located on six acres, directly across from the Delaware Technical Community College Owens Campus.
“How exciting it is to imagine that the graduates from the Pathways to Prosperity program in health care will soon be working on this spot,” said Ms. Whaley.
Stephen Silver, of the Onix Group real estate development firm at College Park, said the decision was made to roll the dice on health-care rather than an initial proposal for a casino.
“At first we believed it was going to be a casino. And then we felt if that fails we can do retail or residential here,” said Mr. Silver, noting the recessive downturn in 2008. “For me that was a depression. What made everything possible here was Gov. Markell and the infrastructure grant (from) DEDO. We would not be here today if it were not for that grant and their vision.”
SUN’s mental health hospital will join LaRed, Beebe and the future Department of Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic in College Park.
“One of the most important elements of this site is health care,” said Mr. Silver.
Mayor West and others said the new hospital will enhance family support for those in Sussex County struggling with mental health problems and addiction.
“Looking back on 29 years of law enforcement, I can recall days when I used to have to go to a house and the child or the 20-year-old was out of control; had to be handcuffed and taken to the hospital then eventually committed to the state hospital,” said Mayor West, a Delaware State Police retiree. “It is hard to leave that house with that child knowing that the parents or grandparents who are raising that child had no opportunity to get to Wilmington to see that child.”
“The expense is one thing. But just the idea that for many people in therapy and having their families being able to visit on a regular basis is so important,” said Gov. Markell.
For more information about SUN, please visit www.sunbehavioral.com