A Responsive Hand to Chester County Residents: The Human Needs Network

Human Needs Network LaunchChester County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz (left), Josh Maxwell (center) and Eric Roe (right) with Bridget Brown, Behavioral Health Crisis Response Program Director, and Joshua Bitler, Information & Referral Director for the new Human Needs Network of Chester County. /Submitted Image

WEST CHESTER, PA — This week, a historic initiative unveiled by the Chester County Commissioners and the Department of Human Services marked a big step forward in community healthcare. The Human Needs Network of Chester County is this initiative’s moniker, and it’s purpose is to address the mental and behavioral health needs, and housing crises of the local residents.

The heart of this initiative comprises a local contact center and mobile crisis resolution teams. This center functions as a beacon of help to those plagued with concerns related to housing, utilities, and other human services. It operates the 2-1-1 referral service and also manages the 24/7 operational 988 suicide and crisis lifeline. This toll-free lifeline is indispensable and is managed by mental health counselors who are ready to dispatch mobile crisis resolution teams when the need arises. Both these services have their base in Chester County’s Government Services Center, West Chester.

The mobile crisis resolution teams work tirelessly, round-the-clock, attending to those in the throes of a mental health crisis. These teams, led by peers, are located in the brand-new Equity Health Center in Coatesville.

Josh Maxwell, Chair of Chester County’s Commissioners, described the mobile crisis team service as a game-changer in the new program. According to Maxwell, having trained peers capable of responding to those in crisis, regardless of the hour, could not only aid the individual but could also significantly reduce the need for law enforcement or emergency medical services.

The Human Needs Network was born out of the input of leaders from over 50 local organizations, spanning various sectors of the community, from first responders, schools, hospitals, libraries to nonprofits, veteran organizations, the United Way of Chester County, and County government departments.

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Chester County Commissioner Marian Moskowitz stated the pressing need for a more local and improved system of care, given the escalating mental and behavioral health needs, especially in the face of the pandemic. The same individuals who helped shape the Human Needs Network now form part of the Advisory Board, working to enhance the initiative and identify further needs.

The Human Needs Network of Chester County is built upon three pillars: ‘Someone to talk’, ‘Someone to respond’, and ‘Somewhere to go’. The contact center staff facilitates ‘Someone to talk’ by answering the 2-1-1 and 988 calls, while the ‘Someone to respond’ pillar is taken care of by the mobile crisis resolution teams.

The ‘Somewhere to go’ pillar currently encompasses walk-in centers and crisis residential services offered by various organizations, including Holcomb Behavioral Health Systems, and in-patient and out-patient treatment through Haven Behavioral Hospital of West Chester. Director of the Chester County Department of Human Services, Pat Bokovitz, hinted at the possible evolution of the Human Needs Network to include a mental health urgent care model.

Chester County’s American Rescue Plan Act funds take care of the cost of this vital initiative. Chester County Commissioner Eric Roe revealed how the government funds have majorly been directed towards mental health and related behavioral health services. These funds are also used for mental health and suicide prevention services within schools, mental health and trauma therapy counseling, trauma-informed mentors and coaches, and to support the Chester County Suicide Prevention Task Force.

The introduction of the Human Needs Network is a significant move, and, as Roe articulates, a service that the communities of Chester County deserve.

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Finally, to weave this grand network together, Chester County has joined forces with Holcomb Behavioral Health Systems to run the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline, and Woods’ Legacy Treatment Services to supervise the mobile crisis resolution teams. This collaboration is a testament to the strategic and forward-thinking approach of Chester County’s leaders and the Human Needs Network, promising a more compassionate, comprehensive, and local healthcare service for the residents.

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