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What looks like a phone booth and connects you to mental health services? The Talk Tank

September 22, 2021

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Here is the outside (left) and inside of the Talk Tank, in the lobby of the Ephrata Public Library in Lancaster County.

Here is the outside (left) and inside of the Talk Tank, in the lobby of the Ephrata Public Library in Lancaster County.

When the simple white booth was set up in the lobby of the Ephrata Public Library, a small sign hung on its door, to spark interest in what was coming.

“What is this?” the sign asked, followed by a list of possibilities.

A jail for bad librarians. A dunk tank. Superman’s changing booth. The TARDIS time machine from Dr. Who.

This week, the community learned what the booth really is, when it opened as the Talk Tank, a unique place where local residents can get connected to mental health support from WellSpan Philhaven.

People can go inside the soundproof booth, shut the door, push a button on a tablet, and be connected to a team member of WellSpan Philhaven Access Center, who can offer some brief support and then link them to services in a brief interaction designed to last five to 15 minutes.

“This is in a community building, accessible to anyone,” said Adam Miller, the director of WellSpan Access. “You don’t have to make an appointment. With the pandemic, so many more telehealth services are now available. People are able to access counseling and therapy on their phone or computer. This is very similar to that, but as a place to get started and get hooked up with those services.”

The Talk Tank was funded by local resident Ron Vogt in memory of his wife, Laurie, a WellSpan Philhaven therapist who died from breast cancer in 2019. The Vogts were big users of the Ephrata Public Library, in Lancaster County, and Ron approached the facility about a project to honor his late wife.

The Library is a member of the Northern Lancaster Hub, a community partnership of organizations that also includes WellSpan Philhaven and WellSpan Health and is committed to improving the quality of life of local residents as well as streamlining services to them. The Hub was exploring ideas about how to better connect area residents with mental health services. The Tank grew out of that desire.

“That seemed like a perfect fit for us,” said Ron, who is a psychologist himself. “Laurie would be ecstatic. My wife was always known as someone to have real conversations about real things. She always had a heart for people who were struggling. I hope it meets a need for people to access services. Too many people wait too long to reach out for help.”

“We want to make taking care of your mental health as normal and everyday as anything else you would do,” said Kelly Ernst Warner, the Northern Lancaster Hub coordinator. “A lot of people feel uncomfortable about something, need help, and don’t know who to ask or where to go to get it.”

Kelly’s office is just across the hall from the Talk Tank, so people who may need other services offered through the Hub, for example access to food or housing, can easily find additional help in a nearby location. The Tank is open whenever the library is.

“This will meet people where they are at, in all ways,” she said. “The Hub is designed to meet all the aspects of care that people need. We want to make sure the library is the center of the community. Anyone who walks through these doors can have access to the services they need. Anyone who can open the door can use the Talk Tank. And all you have to do is press one button.”

To contact the WellSpan Philhaven Access Center, call 800-932-0359. For more information on accessing care, go here.