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State Senate urges replacement of Delaware Psychiatric Center

Tom Byrne
Delaware Public Media

Delaware lawmakers are poised to request a study of options to replace the Delaware Psychiatric Center, the state’s option of last resort for patients with severe mental and behavioral health disorders.

The state considered replacing the center in the mid-2000s, but after whistleblowers revealed a pattern of patients’ rights violations by DPC staff in 2007 – prompting a federal settlement agreement – the state instead focused on moving as many of the more than 200 patients to community-based care.

The settlement agreement ended in 2016, but the facility’s capacity remains significantly reduced: it now houses just over 70 patients. But after years of deferred maintenance — some of the facility's buildings date back to the 19th century — state Sen. Stephanie Hansen’s resolution directs the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to review what it would take to replace the facility.

State Sen. Marie Pinkney, a social worker at ChristianaCare, supports the bill, noting the facility is not able to meet demand for its services.

“And when we can’t get patients over to DPC, they stay in the hospital, so we have patients who have 200 or 300-day stays in the hospital and we can’t get them placement because they’re waiting for beds at DPC.”

And Senate Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn noted when he installed a telecommunications system at the facility as a contractor more than a decade ago, the buildings were in dire need of upgrades. "I can't imagine the conditions now," he said.

The Senate passed the resolution unanimously; it now heads to the House. Hansen argues that while the cost of replacing the facility will likely be substantial, it should be a spending priority for the state.

“This report is going to come back with a big number because we have kicked this can down the road for twenty years," she said. "And we are at a point where we have a mental health crisis and people who are difficult, if not impossible, to treat. We need to take that seriously."

The resolution now heads to the House for a vote. If passed, DSAMH would turn in a report on the site's replacement — including the cost of the project — by the end of 2023.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.