By Jim Melwert

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CBS) — The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services announced plans on Wednesday to close Norristown State Hospital’s civil section, affecting about 60 patients.

DHS secretary Ted Dallas says the closure process will take a year-and-a-half to two years.

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“It will require us to work with community-based providers to make sure the resources are there to adequately serve them in the community,” he said.

Dallas says this is part of the Wolf administration’s efforts to reduce reliance on institutional care and to improve access to home and community-based services.

“The more that we can have folks near their homes, near their families, in contact with the community, being able to interact with the community, being among their friends, the better it is for them therapeutically and it helps them with their recovery,” he said.

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Dallas says each case will be reviewed individually, and he says the overwhelming majority are able to transition to the community. Those who aren’t ready, he says, will be sent to another facility.

Dallas says this closure does not affect the forensic section –anyone assigned to the hospital through the criminal justice system. Though he adds it will likely free up some beds for people deemed not competent to stand trial, or not guilty by reason of insanity.

Montgomery County’s director of health and human services, Barbara O’Malley, says they just learned of the closure. She says they’re “eager” to hear details about the state’s plans and to understand the impact on residents and the community.

Advocacy group Disability Rights Pennsylvania says they commend the decision and the commitment to community-based living for people with disabilities.

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A public hearing will be held at the state hospital on January 31.