Company To Offer Mental Health Services At Purnell Mansion

Company To Offer Mental Health Services At Purnell Mansion
Community Behavioral Health’s Dr. Suni Jani signs a memorandum of understanding with the Town of Snow Hill Tuesday as, from left, Snow Hill Councilmember LaToya Purnell, Snow Hill Mayor Charlie Dorman and Shyam Bhayani, Jani’s husband, look on.

SNOW HILL – A company that provides mental health services throughout the state made its plans to take over the long vacant Oscar Purnell mansion official this week.

On Tuesday, Dr. Suni Jani of Community Behavioral Health signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the company’s agreement with the Town of Snow Hill regarding the Purnell mansion. Community Behavioral Health will renovate the historic building and set up a much needed mental health clinic there.

“The need is always there,” Jani said. “This is a really overlooked region.”

Community Behavioral Health, which is run by Jani and her parents, Dr. Niru Jani and Dr. Sushma Jani, currently has six locations throughout the state.

“Our mission is for underserved patients,” Sushma Jani said, adding that only 2 percent of mental health providers accepted Medicare and Medicaid. “Our goal is to serve that population. Another major focus is addiction.”

When the Jani family became aware that the Town of Snow Hill was in search of someone to renovate the Purnell mansion in exchange for eventual ownership, they decided it would be an ideal facility for their seventh location.

“This is an underserved region in terms of mental health services,” Suni Jani said. “My interest area in terms of clinical services for psychiatric care was to bring mental health services to underserved regions.  We need a clinic to work out of so it seemed to be a mutually beneficial opportunity.”

She said that contractors couldn’t be sure exactly how long renovations would take until they got inside the building but that it would likely be a 12- to 18-month process. Though Worcester County funded exterior improvements to the house prior to turning over ownership of it to the town, the inside needs extensive work.

“It’s not going to be something that’s going to happen overnight,” Suni Jani said.

She added however that she was eager to begin offering services to area residents and would open at least part of the facility as soon as possible.

“Our hope was, as soon as it’s safe to run a clinic in here, we have at least one floor that we’re doing work out of,” she said.

She added that the large house—roughly 5,700 square feet—would have to be divided inside so that there’d be distinct areas for children, addiction and the like.

Jani said the expansive building would be perfect for therapy.

“People need that space,” she said. “Mental health services aren’t just talking to someone. Sometimes it’s having that respite, having to get away from people for a while. This house, in a very interesting way with all its space, gives people that opportunity to get away.”

Jani said Community Behavioral Health’s largest locations served as many as 300 clients. She said the number of therapists and psychiatrists housed in Snow Hill would depend on the volume of patients.

Snow Hill officials are thrilled that the mansion, which has been a local landmark since 1900, will see some new life.

“It was obviously built for display, as a showpiece,” said Jon Hill, Snow Hill’s code enforcement officer.

While municipal leaders originally envisioned something like a bed and breakfast in the building when the town took ownership of it in 2015, they believe Community Behavioral Health will be a good fit.

“I can’t imagine finding a better, more reasonable use for this building,” Hill said, adding that Community Behavioral Health would bring an ever-changing clientele, as well as a variety of doctors, to the town.

Michael Day, Snow Hill’s economic development coordinator, agreed.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “It will be bringing people into town. That’s the exciting part of what they’re going to do.”

According to the memorandum of understanding signed Tuesday, once the company has spent $500,000 on improvements to the Purnell mansion Community Behavioral Health will be able to request that ownership of the property be transferred.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.