Providing hope and healing

Lenape Valley Foundation celebrates grand opening of Bucks County’s first crisis residential program

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

There are a lot of stereotypes when it comes to mental health. For example, a person doesn’t need to be diagnosed with a specific disorder to experience a mental health crisis. This can manifest in the form of depression, anxiety, and/or suicidal thoughts, and often requires special treatment.

In Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, these individuals can check into a crisis residential program, which offers a home-like setting rather than a sterile, inpatient environment. With less focus on medication and more on respect, care and freedom, guests check in voluntarily and typically stay one week.

This sort of atmosphere was nonexistent in Bucks County — until now. On Wednesday, April 10, Lenape Valley Foundation celebrated the grand opening of The Lodge, the area’s first crisis residential center located at 499 Bath Road, Bristol.

The mission of this brand new resource is to provide a warm, welcoming haven for residents suffering a mental, emotional, or behavioral crisis that includes being at risk to their own safety. Admission to a locked, inpatient mental health unit will no longer be necessary.

The Lodge, a $6.5 million endeavor, features 11 single bedrooms and one double, each equipped with its own bathroom, a window that opens a limited amount, and beds adorned with colorful quilts crafted by Lenape staff. In a spacious lobby sits a fireplace covered with glass, which never gets hot to the touch. Directly outside is a patio area, which overlooks the river and grants access to a walking trail.

Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

Guests at The Lodge can bring and wash their own clothes, cook their own meals, have loved ones come to visit, take a meditation walk, enjoy a continental breakfast, set goals during community meetings, and work directly with an on-site psychiatrist, therapist and nurse practitioner.

Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

The facility, which was designed and constructed from scratch, also has a 23-hour observation room for individuals on the cusp of harming themselves. Here, they can calm down, speak to a therapist, and return home once the crisis has been resolved.

“I was under the philosophy this whole time that this is not an institution,” said Sharon Curran, CEO of Lenape, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We’ve been told with the amount of treatment we’re putting into this site, with the physical surroundings, the gardens outside, that we’ve really created a crisis retreat center, and I believe that.”

Sharon Curran. Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

Curran stressed that individuals who check in to The Lodge will never be considered “patients.” They’re “guests.”

“We’re not going to have coloring books and glue and popsicle sticks for things to do because they’re adults. We’ll have respectful things that are age-appropriate,” she said. “Unless they really like to color, then they can do that. But we envision a space that is so respectful of them, that the healing happens quicker.”

According to Curran, a person’s surroundings matter tremendously during the treatment process.

“People get well faster and stay well longer based on the environment they’re in and how they’re treated,” she said. “We are going to do everything we can to make this the best environment possible for the individuals coming to stay with us.”

The project, explained Curran, has been two years in the making, and was made possible by generous donors, Lenape’s board of directors, and funding by the county. Present at the ceremony were commissioners Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Robert G. Loughery. Several weeks prior, Marseglia, a part-time faculty member at Bucks County Community College, brought her students, some of whom have been in hospitals before.

“They were so excited to see something positive in mental health,” she said. “The first 22 years of my life were all about Byberry, fear that you would end up in a hospital. All those horrible things. The next 30-plus years, nobody wanted to go into a hospital. Everybody was afraid. We had homelessness problems because people couldn’t get help. So then here we are today with a place like this, a crisis residential that can stop things before they get so bad.”

Attendees then heard from Alan Hartl, Lenape’s former CEO who recently retired after 27 years in the position. He reminisced on taking part in a countywide work group that looked at local crisis services in 1998.

Alan Hartl. Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

“The need was apparent then. It’s never gone away. Why should we admit somebody to an inpatient, locked psychiatric unit, when that person can be kept safely in a community-based program? We shouldn’t. But the only other option we’ve had is to send that person home, and sometimes that’s also not safe,” Hartl said. “This program, The Lodge, finally plugs that gap in the array of crisis services available to Bucks County residents.”

Curran closed out the event by stressing that Lenape is only getting started.

“This could become a model that could be replicated elsewhere in decreasing the suicide risks in the folks that we see. I always think there’s something new and innovative out in the world of behavioral health, and we want to be at the forefront of that. It’s our goal to treat our individuals staying with us — our guests — with hope, healing and a nurturing environment. We don’t want them to be afraid,” Curran said. “We want it to be a place kind of like grandma’s house, where you can wrap up in a quilt and be safe.”

The Lodge will begin welcoming patients 24/7 in the near future, and will accept those with medical assistance, county-funded (uninsured) or private pay. As time goes on, it will have contracts with private insurance companies. For more information, visit lenapevf.org/the-lodge-at-lvf, call 267–893–5555 or email thelodge@lenapevf.org. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com