ACH SENIOR CARE UNIT A 'BEST KEPT SECRET'
By Shannon Harsh, The Alliance Review, Published April 2, 2014
Alliance Community Hospital's Senior Care Unit continues to adapt to the needs of the community, but one thing hasn't changed -- its existence and purpose is still unknown to many.
"Local people within our community will say to us, 'You're the best-kept secret in town,' or 'I didn't know the hospital had a psychiatric unit,'" social worker Trina Arnold said. "That is disturbing to us that even our local people that live in Alliance don't even know we're here, and we service a large area, so that means a lot of people probably don't know we're here."
Arnold said while the rest of the hospital deals with physical issues, the Senior Care Unit addresses mental health issues, such as Alzheimer's and dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression and anxiety disorders.
Though the name of the unit makes people often mistake it for a senior nursing facility rather than an acute hospital setting, the unit is a psychiatric unit -- and not just for the retired population.
"Despite the fact that our name implies 'senior,' we take patients 54 and older, and we make exceptions for younger patients as well," staff nurse Patti Stanley said.
Stanley said this has been especially true since the closing of the inpatient psychiatric unit at Mercy Medical Center in early 2013. "We see more people under 60 than we did previously," she noted.
The unit, which is locked down and has rooms designed to keep patients safe, is led by medical director Dr. Ranga Thalluri and includes a nurse practitioner, social worker, case worker and recreational therapist. If needed, physical therapy and medical doctors can be made available to patients. The unit includes 12 beds in eight private rooms and two semi-private rooms, and a common area with a television and activities to help get people to socialize and keep them from isolating themselves. Patients are dressed in regular street clothes and given the amount of supervision that is needed for their specific situation.
"We want people to realize that we're trying to get away from the stigma that's associated with mental health because it's real; it needs to be treated as much as a physical ailment, and it kind of ties in with our whole Planetree philosophy of mind, body, spirit -- we want to treat the whole person," Stanley said. "We address their medical issues, as well as their mental health issues, but the medical issues are generally stabilized before they come to our unit."
When looking at criteria for those admitted to the unit, Stanley said it often comes down to behaviors, such as being combative, hallucinating, exhibiting paranoia and putting themselves at risk of harm. The criteria depends on the disorder and is based on guidelines set forth by the Ohio Department of Mental Health. It is Thalluri who makes the determination to admit someone to the unit, but most are voluntary admissions.
Stanley said the length of stay is based on need. Typically, the staff meets with the patient and their family or support system, medications are prescribed as needed and a therapist is made available, she described. The staff teaches coping skills, helps with resources for when patients go home and helps connect them with support groups.
"Part of our program is to educate the patient or the families about the disorders," Arnold said. "Our patients come to us because they're in crisis, so most often their family or loved ones are in crisis with them, so we try to provide support, not just for the patient, but for the families. And my belief, and I think the belief of everyone else on this unit, is education is power for our families. If they can understand what's happening to their loved one, then they can better cope with it themselves."
Arnold said once they leave, patients have the option of keeping in touch or returning when needed -- and many do both. "I'm proud of the fact that we build relationships with our patients," Arnold said. "We have many patients who will call in and just let us know how they're doing, or will call in when they might have reached a little bump in the road. And they call in to have help from us, or they know to call us when they're in crisis again."
Arnold said getting someone help in the unit is an easy process and does not require a referral from a doctor. She said concerned family members may call the unit directly at 330-596-7650 if they have questions or concerns about their loved ones. Someone may also call for themselves.
"I'm proud to be a mental health worker," Arnold added. "People that deal with chronic mental illness are very strong people -- they have to be to survive in this world, and especially in our age group. They've survived a good number of years with chronic mental illness, and there shouldn't be embarrassment tied to that or shame."