Norristown municipal hall was packed Wednesday evening with area residents concerned about the future of Norristown State Hospital.
The institution has been shedding patients for years, and even though the topic of discussion was about construction at one of the buildings and the handling of patients, it was announced that the services being offered at the site, building 10, will be fazed out by 2022.
Land developers have long looked at the state hospital property in Norristown as prime for development, which the Montgomery County seat of government sorely needs. While the majority of residents spoke about handling the patients in a humane manner, there were several comments about the property eventually becoming a commercial development with rateable properties to boost the municipalities tax coffers.
The following is an excerpt from a philly.com story focusing on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Pennsylvania’s Dec. 15 deadline under a legal settlement to create 50 new spots for the treatment of mentally ill criminal defendants has been pushed back to Jan. 5. The state halted construction at Norristown State Hospital this fall in response to community uproar over the lack of communication from the state about the plan, writes Harold Brubaker for philly.com.
To comply with two ACLU settlements, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services had started converting a building now used for people committed by a court for psychiatric treatment, but not accused of a crime, into one for mentally ill criminal defendants now languishing in county prisons.
“We really did not do a good job communicating what was happening in Norristown to the community,” Teresa Miller, acting DHS secretary, said at a community meeting in Norristown on Wednesday evening. “We are also in a bind with the waiting list and the ACLU settlements.”
Miller told the gathering at Norristown’s borough hall that the state could face millions of dollars in penalties if it does not find a way to reduce the waiting list for forensic beds at Norristown State Hospital. There were 194 people on the list in November, more than the 184 on the list in January 2016, when the state settled a class-action lawsuit alleging that it allowed mentally ill defendants, the majority accused of minor crimes, to sit in jail without treatment, sometimes for more than a year.
Lack of progress led to a second settlement in June.
Norristown Council President Sonya Sanders called the plan “not ideal” for the town, but said she understood the state’s predicament. “Council supports the commonwealth’s proposal to vacate and convey the property for redevelopment no later than 2022, provided that there is a firm, tangible agreement to do so,” she said.
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