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“Cloud of uncertainty hanging over WSH lifted”

This article reverberates the latest update regarding Forensics in Pennsylvania not being privatized.  It is from the Warren Times-Observer, originally printed on March 22, 2008.  It also mentions some possible uses for what use to be doctors’ houses on Warren State’s grounds that were brought up at some point during the extensive discussions surrounding Warren State Hospital.

Cloud of uncertainty hanging over WSH lifted

By CHUCK HAYES chayes@timesobserver.com

The cloud of uncertainty which has hovered over the forensics unit at Warren State Hospital for the past year has been lifted. “It won’t be closed and it won’t be privatized,” State Rep. Kathy Rapp said on Friday.

Rapp said that she was notified of the decision on Thursday evening by the state Department of Public Welfare.

Rapp said the decision was made by Pennsylvania Welfare Secretary Estelle Richman in conjunction with the Rendell administration.

The forensics unit employs 50 people and Rapp said the transfer or elimination of those jobs would have had “a domino effect” on the local economy.

“It would have had a huge impact on the economy here.” said Rapp. “We needed to retain those jobs. I’m very pleased.”

The privatization or possible closure of the forensics unit had been rumored since last April and state officials confirmed in August that privatization of forensic units at Warren and Norristown state hospitals was being considered.

Rapp arranged to have a legislative policy committee hold a public hearing on the issue in Warren and said on Friday she felt the comments offered at that hearing “put pressure on the Department of Public Welfare” to reconsider.

The closing of the unit, said Rapp, could also have placed “a huge burden” on the Warren County Jail and local legal system.

In the event the unit had been closed, Rapp had prepared a bill designed to assure that adequate state funding would be provided for forensic unit patients no longer housed at Warren State Hospital.

In addition to the public efforts to not privatize or close the forensics units in Norristown or Warren, Rapp said there were also behind-the-scenes negotiations involving the state and state correctional officers union.

The Department of Public Welfare said on Friday that after meeting with union leaders, Richman was withdrawing the proposal to consolidate and privatize forensic units.

Under the terms of the agreement between the state and union, the forensic units at Warren and Norristown will remain, while services at Mayview State Hospital will be transferred to Torrance State Hospital after Mayview closes in December.

Warren State Hospital’s forensics unit serves 32 counties and Rapp said that the closing of the unit would have increased the travel burden for many patients’ families.

During her talks with Richman, Rapp said, there was also discussion of using the empty residences on the hospital grounds, formerly used by doctors, as transitional homes for patients.

The welfare secretary is following up on the possibility of using the residences, Rapp said. “Our prisons are filling up with people with mental illness and drug and alcohol problems,” said Rapp. “If we can utilize those houses, that’s great.”

Section: News Date Posted: 3/22/2008

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