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January 12, 2017

Montgomery County unit for mentally ill among planned Pennsylvania hospital closures

Hospitals Closures
011217_NorristownStateHospital Source/Public Domain

Historical postcard of Norristown State Hospital, founded in 1880.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services announced plans Thursday to close two state hospitals dedicated to serving residents with intellectual disabilities and mental illness.

In a news release, DHS Secretary Ted Dallas said that the Hamburg State Center in Berks County and the civil section of the Norristown State Hospital in Montgomery County will both be shutting down with 18 to 24 months.

“Individuals experience a better quality of life when they receive care and support in their homes and in their communities, when possible,” said Dallas. “Today’s announcement means we are expanding opportunities for residents to live their lives to the fullest by returning to their homes and communities as contributing members of society.”

The closures mark a continuation of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's initiative to reduce community reliance on institutional care while improving access to home- and community-based services.

Pennsylvania currently operates five centers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Hamburg serves 84 residents on its 154-acre campus, but the overall trend at Pennsylvania's state centers has been a steady decline over the last 20 years. During that timeframe, the population under state care fell about 70 percent, from almost 3,000 people to just 888.

“This closure will enable the residents to live in the community when possible,” said Dallas. “Research shows that community settings result in improved quality of life in areas such as opportunities for integration and social participation, participation in employment, opportunities for choice-making and self-determination, contact with friends and relatives, adaptive behavior, and other indicators of quality of life.”

The Norristown civil unit currently serves 122 residents and is one of six state hospitals for individuals with mental illness. These facilities have also seen about a 70 percent decline in residency over the last 20 years as the population dropped from nearly 5,000 to 1,568. Among those under DHS-administered care, 1,107 are in civil units, 159 are in the restoration center, 237 are in forensic units, and 65 are in the Sexual Responsibility and Treatment Program.

As part of the Norristown closure, DHS will repurpose some of the hospital's civil beds to serve those committed to the forensic section through the criminal justice system.

Prior to releasing individuals at the two facilities facing closure, residents will participate in a series of assessments and planning meetings to determine their level of need for services and support as they transition into the community or rejoin their families. DHS plans to hold multiple sessions in the coming months to ensure that hospital residents, family members and decision-makers are fully informed about all potential options and care providers moving forward.

Employees at the two hospitals will be provided opportunities for viable employment opportunities at other state facilities or new and existing community programs.

“All Pennsylvanians deserve the right to choose where they live - with family, friends, and neighbors in communities where everyone is welcome,” said Dallas.

DHS will hold a public hearing for comment from the community and stakeholders involved in both facilities.

Hamburg State Center: Monday, Jan. 30 from 1-4 p.m. at the Hamburg Borough Building, 61 North Third Street. Those who wish to provide comments are asked to register by contacting Connie Meeker at 717.783.8964 or Written comments can be submitted via email to

DHS has also established a toll-free number for family members of residents to use during the closure process. Staff will be available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at 1-888-565-9435.

Norristown State Hospital (Civil Section): Tuesday, Jan. 31 from 2:30-5 p.m. at 1001 Sterigere St., Norristown Hospital, Building 33. Those who wish to provide comments are asked to register by contacting Helen Brennan at 610.313.1014 or Written comment can be submitted via email to

The toll-free number for family members of residents in the Norristown State Hospital's civil unit is 1-877-692-1267. Staff will be available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. to respond to questions and concerns during the transition process.

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