WellSpan Philhaven to close Harrisburg facility, plans to sell to new provider

Written by Brett Sholtis/Transforming Health | Jun 18, 2019 3:23 PM
WellSpan Philhaven Harrisburg - Google Maps.JPG

WellSpan Philhaven's Harrisburg facility, 2601 Herr St., Penbrook. (Google Maps)

Kristi Spangler spent almost a year waiting to get her son, Joseph, into a program for children with autism at WellSpan Philhaven in Harrisburg.

"It's extremely important," Spangler said. "He can't go to school without it."

Now, she's bracing for the possibility of another long wait. Her 4-year-old son is one of about 200 patients who will lose access to behavioral health rehabilitation services at the Harrisburg location this August. WellSpan is planning to close the facility by October and transition its services to other providers. 

WellSpan decided to focus its behavioral health efforts in nearby counties where it also offers physical health services, said spokeswoman Cindy Stauffer. The York-based health system is planning to connect patients with other behavioral health providers in Dauphin County.

WellSpan has "a tentative agreement with another local provider" to sell the 2601 Herr St. building that serves as its Harrisburg Philhaven facility, Stauffer said.  The day hospital, after-school program and family-based program will also be acquired by that provider, though Stauffer declined to name the health system.

Separately, WellSpan "is in discussions with other local providers" about how to transition care for its behavioral health patients who have been receiving care at Philhaven in Harrisburg, Stauffer said. "It's our goal, and our expectation, that every patient will find a new provider who will take care of their needs."

There's an urgent need to make sure that happens, said developmental pediatrician Cheryl Tierney-Aves. There's already a shortage of qualified behavior analysts in Pennsylvania, with wait lists ranging from a few months to more than a year. 

The longer a child with autism goes without "intensive therapeutic support," the harder it is for them to adapt to the complexities of school, home life and friendships, Tierney-Aves said. 

"The longer they sit on wait lists, that is time that's lost to try to help minimize that developmental gap," Tierney-Aves said. "And that is, in my mind, a tragedy, and these families know it."

As a note of disclosure, Transforming Health receives financial support from WellSpan Health.

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