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Ground broken for new mental health complex

SUN Behavioral Delaware to open in Georgetown in 2018
Breaking ground on the future site of SUN Behavioral’s Health’s new hospital in Georgetown are (l-r) Gov. Jack Markell; Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach; Georgetown Mayor Bill West; Ken Adams of Melvin Joseph Construction Co.; SUN President and CEO Steve Page; Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown; Stephen Silver of ONIX Group; Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown; Rep. David Wilson, R-Lincoln; Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown; DEDO Director Bernice Whaley; and Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View. MADDY LAURIA PHOTOS
November 4, 2016

Story Location:
21635 Biden Avenue
Georgetown  Delaware
United States

In less than two years, Sussex County residents should no longer have to travel hours from home for mental health and substance-abuse treatment.

State officials broke ground Nov. 2 on SUN Behavioral Delaware, a 90-bed hospital that will become Sussex County's only inpatient behavioral health facility.

“This will be a hospital that really is part of a community-wide solution,” said SUN President and CEO Steve Page. “Our mission at SUN is to partner with communities to solve unmet needs for those suffering from mental illness and addiction disorders. We know we can't do this alone.”

The 93,000-square-foot, two-story hospital is expected to open in 2018, Page said, and will provide intensive inpatient care as well as tiered outpatient services. Patient groups such as seniors, military, women, men and children will have access to intensive care, detox and substance-abuse treatment in separate treatment wings.

“This service has been well overdue,” said Georgetown Mayor Bill West.

West, who spent 29 years as a police officer, said Sussex County law enforcement officials have struggled with the limited options for helping people access mental health or substance abuse care. In most cases, a young adult is handcuffed and then taken two hours away to the closest inpatient facility in Wilmington.

“It was hard to leave that house, knowing that the parents or grandparents had no opportunity to get to Wilmington to see their child,” West said.

Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, who also is a retired police officer, agreed.

“If you talk to any police officer in this county, this issue has been talked about for decades,” Schwartzkopf said. “When you have to take someone with a mental disorder or a drug-induced issue all the way to Wilmington – two hours there and two hours back – you're taking resources off the street. And you're handcuffing someone, which just adds to the trauma. This is going to meet those unmet needs.”

The facility will be built off Route 9 and Route 113 near La Red Health Center and Beebe Healthcare. The next closest facility that provides inpatient behavioral health treatment is Dover Behavioral Health. Other than that, patients have to travel out of state for inpatient care.

“Through the hearings we held, we had tears, we had stories. We had Nanticoke CEOs, Beebe CEOS and financiers talking about the need for this,” said Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown. Hall-Long said it’s important for people to get care quickly and within their communities, and that no resources currently exist in Delaware for children facing substance-abuse problems.

Hall-Long was the primary sponsor of a bill that helped streamline efforts to begin construction on the new hospital after opponents filed a Superior Court appeal challenging the approval of the hospital in late 2015. The appeal, filed by Dover Behavioral Health's parent company Universal Health Services, was withdrawn shortly after Hall-Long and other legislators introduced the bill.

Page said the appeal could have delayed construction by two years. “We thought we'd see this process stalled, but the legislators stepped in and freed the project up,” Page said. “And we do recognize that with this support comes high expectations.”

Schwartzkopf, a co-sponsor of the bill, said it was an easy decision to support legislation that would pave the way for a resource desperately needed in Sussex County. Data shows that in 2015, 228 people died from overdoses statewide, while nearly 10,000 people were admitted to state-funded substance abuse programs.

Gov. Jack Markell said focusing funds and resources on treating mental health issues needs to be a priority, and the SUN facility is a positive move in the right direction.

“This is an issue that can't be swept under the rug,” he said. “We all look forward to what this means for our families in Sussex County.”

The facility will cost about $25 million and is expected to create more than 150 healthcare and support services jobs. For more, go to www.sunbehavioral.com.

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