The WellSpan Spotlight

Mental health and wellbeing

1,900 START patients, 1,900 stories of challenge and hope

1,900 START patients, 1,900 stories of challenge and hope

WellSpan's Specialized Treatment and Recovery Team (START) provides urgent care for South Central Pennsylvania residents with behavioral health and addiction needs. 

When you have met one START patient, you have met one START patient. No two are the same and they all have unique needs. The one thing they share is they all receive the same comprehensive care that is tailored to their situation. 

Meet Conrad Heller. 

Conrad, 36, of Hellam, came to START via the York County Mental Health Court, a wellness court that offers supervised treatment and support, rather than punishment, to those who are facing legal charges. Conrad applied and was accepted into the court after his third arrest for driving under the influence, a problem related to his mental health challenges and the use of drugs he says he was taking to medicate himself. 

START connected Conrad to one of its psychiatrists, so he could receive the right medications for his bipolar disorder and set him up with a provider outside of START that offers trauma therapy. The combination of services, and the ongoing support from START, has helped him stabilize and turn around his life, he says. 

"I was very suicidal and I'm not anymore," he notes. "I could not keep a job. I had nine jobs since December of 2021. Now I am working and have sustained my job and it is going well. My friends and family can see the difference in me. I am making smarter decisions." 

Who START helps 

Since it opened two years ago, START has cared for about 1,900 people. Some, like Conrad, come to START via its relationship with York County wellness courts, which also include a Drug Court and a DUI Court. START evaluates many of the patients who are accepted into these courts and either provides or finds services to meet their needs. 

Other START patients are like the woman who walked into START's office at 605 S. George St. in York this summer, looking for help. The woman asked an office assistant who START served and when she heard the program helps those with behavioral health and addiction challenges, she said, "That's me." The program's nurse practitioner met with the woman, who was also was hungry and experiencing homelessness. START offered her a prescription for a medication refill, connected her to clothing from a partner provider, and provided food. They also helped her to make a doctor's appointment and connected her to a social worker, to help her find housing. 

How START helps 

START's network of addiction medicine experts, psychiatrists, social workers, peer and recovery support specialists, and therapists work to find the right treatment for each patient. START's community partners help patients with transportation, housing, food, and employment needs, among others. 

START is set up to provide the right care, at the right time, in the right setting, says Andrea Reca, a START clinical team lead and certified substance use counselor. That setting is the community, where the patient lives and works. It's how START has helped its patients avoid more than 2,200 emergency room visits. A hospital emergency room – set up to care for patients with heart attacks, strokes, traumatic wounds, and other life-threatening injuries or illnesses – is not always the right setting for someone with a complex tangle of mental health or addiction challenges. 

"Often there is so much going on with people that when they can get connected to a comprehensive service provider, it helps," she says. "We are going to walk with them and connect them to services. Our focus is to help people who need treatment right away. With our holistic approach, we can keep people engaged in their recovery and treatment." 

Hope for the future 

START recently received a $4 million federal grant, to be used over four years to expand and enhance its Certified Community Behavioral Health Center services. 

The grant will be used to expand walk-in hours, increase community outreach through support and education, provide on-site tobacco cessation groups and individual counseling, and provide evidence-based care specific to individuals who are experiencing homelessness, were formerly incarcerated, who identify as LGBTQIA+, and who use Spanish as their primary language. 

For the wide variety of patients who are referred to or walk into START, the care finds a better way to support their journey to a healthier life. 

Conrad recently moved into his own apartment. On house arrest until early next year, he is anticipating the day when he can leave his house not just for work or appointments, but to exercise, hike, kayak, and do other activities he enjoys. He has things to look forward to now. 

"I have hope for the future," he says. 

For more information about START, go here.