PLAINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The closure of northeastern Pennsylvania’s only private psychiatric hospital is still being felt four months later. Many patients at the former “first hospital” in Kingston were kids and teens in crisis.

The accolades are for 14-year-old Isaiah Moore, a 9th grader at Lighthouse Academy. He credits the site for helping him overcome mental health struggles that once had him acting out.

“I used to have really bad anger issues like if I got mad I would, like, throw stuff at people and curse them out,” said Isaiah Moore, 9th grader at Lighthouse Academy.

Since enrolling in October 2021, he’s learned some coping skills.

“I hold my breath and I breathe in and I breathe out. Like, when someone makes me angry I just ignore it,” explained Moore.

The teen is just one of the success stories at Lighthouse Academy which is run by Luzerne Intermediate (LIU) Unit 18. LIU works with a dozen school districts and two career technology centers to provide education and emotional services to students in need.

“The Lighthouse Academy in particular is a place that has complete wrap-around services both on the education side and the mental health or therapeutic side, ” stated Anthony Grieco, Ed.D, Executive Director at Luzerne Intermediate Unit.

Dr. Anthony Grieco has served as LIU’s executive director for ten-plus years.

“Over the last decade, mental health need at least the awareness of need has grown exponentially among our student populations,” explained Dr. Grieco

Some students come directly to Lighthouse Academy for services, but not all of them need to with the help of LIU.

9-year-old Jonathan Buydos, Jr., diagnosed with severe ADHD, receives counseling, therapy, and medication along with education support, all through school-based behavioral health at Greater Nanticoke Area School District.

“There have been some difficult points, but slowly, gradually he’s been getting there. They’ve been slowly pulling him less and fewer times class to see how he’ll take it and it’s been working slowly,” said Buydos.

“They don’t only focus on the child at hand. They focus on the family as well. It’s not just the child. It’s everybody because they understand it’s not that easy to have a child that suffers from a mental health condition,” expressed Corrina Buydos.

While the Buydos’ son required mental health services before the pandemic, many other young people started receiving them only since then.

It’s contributed to a crushing demand for outpatient services considered critical to help prevent a student’s mental health crisis.

“We have approximately 20 centers located across three counties in Wyoming, Luzerne, and Lackawanna Counties and over 400 individuals that are currently being serviced and the demand is exceeding the supply of licensed counselors and qualified counselors to meet those students’ needs,” explained Dr. Grieco.

“Partial hospitalization and outpatient are really on the rise and a lot of that is because of the closing of the hospital,” stated Jennifer Runquist, Director of Behavioral Health at Luzerne Intermediate Unit.

First Hospital, a 149-bed psychiatric facility, closed in October 2022 putting a burden on northeastern Pennsylvania medical facilities that do not specialize in treating severe mental disorders.

“These kids are waiting in our local hospitals for two to three days. Oftentimes, they’re stable. It doesn’t mean that they’re fixed. It just means that they’re stable enough to go home,” explained Runquist.

Left without the proper diagnosis and treatment, the consequences could be tragic. But help is on the way for struggling students. It comes in the form of a more than $7 million grant, much of which will focus on suicide prevention.

LIU will use those federal funds from The Project Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education Grant over four years.

The funding will help LIU achieve three goals: expand suicide awareness training opportunities for students, implement a universal mental health screener for school staff, and create an electronic data system to connect mental health practitioners with community-based mental health providers.

“They’ll be able to find out what agencies have openings and what have waiting lists on a much quicker, more efficient electronic system,” said Runquist.

Creating more tools to help our children and adolescents caught in the silent struggle of mental health battles.

Head over to PA211 to learn more about Luzerne Intermediate Unit’s Lighthouse Academy and you can read the final “Invisible Battles” report from our news partner, The Times Leader, in Tuesday’s online edition.