The Bucks County Commissioners voted Wednesday to approve a more than $16 million mental health diversion center that advocates and officials have said is needed.
At the public meeting, the commissioners – two Democrats and one Republican – voted to hire contractors Guy M. Cooper Inc., Integrity Mechanical, Magnum, The Farfield Company, and Vision Mechanical to complete the planned Diversion, Assessment, Rehabilitation and Treatment Center.
The center will be constructed on the site of the previous Bucks County Women’s Community Corrections Center off Route 611 in Doylestown Township. That building was demolished earlier this year after the Bucks County Department of Corrections moved its programs to other facilities.
County officials said groundbreaking on the Diversion, Assessment, Rehabilitation and Treatment Center will happen in the coming weeks, with completion of the building expected by late 2024.
A statement said the center will “serve people in the criminal justice system who are suffering from mental illness.”
Bucks County Behavioral Health/Developmental Programs Administrator Donna Duffy-Bell said the need for a center like the one planned was first identified in 2016.
A public spotlight on the issue was raised in 2020 after reporting, including articles published by public media station WITF, on mental health-related cases in the county. The reporting by WITF, LevittownNow.com, and other news organizations led to county officials announcing a center was going to be constructed.
The 23,000-square-foot, one-story new building will have the capacity for 28 people.
There will be a short-term observation unit, a restoration of competency unit, and a residential treatment facility for men and women. The length of stays at the facility will be from weeks to as long as nine months, Duffy-Bell said.
The Diversion, Assessment, Rehabilitation and Treatment Center will be able to serve as an alternative for a district judge to send a person for evaluation and resources instead of sending them to the correctional facility. People leaving the jail, in custody, or on probation and parole will also be able to use the facility, according to Duffy-Bell.
Bucks County Project and Diversity Officer Bernard Griggs will oversee the project and work with county departments and contractors.
“It’s an exciting project,” Griggs said. “A whole lot of work went into getting to the point where this project is.”
Some of the patients the center is expected to serve would traditionally be sent to Norristown State Hospital, a psychiatric center operated by the state in Montgomery County. Sending Bucks Countians to the hospital can be a slow process and lead to delays in moments when hours count.
The center will work in conjunction with Bucks County’s new mental health court that was established in 2021.
Throughout the planning, county officials looked at reusing the former women’s center, but the building was determined to be unusable, Bucks County spokesperson James O’Malley previously said.
The county will use state and federal grants and funding streams and American Rescue Plan Act money to pay for the new center.
Bucks County Commissioners Chairperson Bob Harvie called the planned center “long overdue,” noting it will help those in need and public safety officials.
He added that Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia had been “banging the drum” for more mental services for years.