Pioneer Community Hospital of Stokes plans to open a geriatric psych unit in July — the first of its kind in Stokes County.
The hospital in Danbury has been working on renovations for the new in-patient psych unit for about three weeks, according to Tracey Collins, community education director for Pioneer.
The hospital is authorized initially for six beds but hopes to get up to nine eventually. As a geriatric facility, the psych unit will support patients 60 and over.
The project has been in the works for a while, but there is a lengthy process to get approval for psych units, Collins said. They had to present a case for why the service was needed in Stokes County.
“I would very much like to see that happen,” said Stokes County Commissioner Leon Inman, noting the need for more mental health services statewide.
Once the unit is up and running, some patients will stay for a couple of days, some for a month. Referalls will come from families, law enforcement officials, health personnel, etc.
Stokes County Sheriff Mike Marshall stated that there are times when a person needs immediate attention and it is not available. “We have had to wait up to three days to get patients admitted before,” he said.
In September, Dr. Vicky Morrow, a native of Stokes County, moved back to the area to head up the Behavioral Health Program for Pioneer. Dr. Morrow is a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist, and she meets with patients in a clinic setting.
In addition to seeing patients in an outpatient environment, Dr. Morrow will work with some patients in the hospital setting and new psych unit, which is set to open July 1st. Currently, Morrow is seeing patients from all age groups in an outpatient setting.
Morrow stated in a news release, “Many of the patients I see have simply lost hope. They feel that there is no way to overcome their circumstances or their life’s situation.”
Dr. Morrow conducts an initial evaluation and then develops a treatment program to include counseling and medication management, emphasizing that healing is a process. In addition to the therapy services, Dr. Morrow evaluates patients’ spiritual activities, family structure, physical activity and overall desire to get well.
“Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health,” Dr. Morrow said. “People may perceive that they are crazy when in reality they just need to make some adjustments to their life or deal with issues that impede their well-being. Mental health treatment is simply a process of making you feel better.”
Only 17 percent of adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health according to the Center for Disease Control. The CDC also reports that 26 percent of Americans suffer from depression. It is estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability worldwide, trailing only heart disease. Other common forms of mental illness include anxiety, psychotic disorders, bi-polar disorders and dementia.
One of the biggest challenges impacting mental health is the shortage of mental health professionals. The problem is especially pronounced in rural areas. Dr. David Kaplan from Pioneer Family Practice in Danbury stated, “The mental health system has major deficiencies and impacts our region in horrible ways. The rate of suicide in Stokes County has been among the worst in the nation for a number of years.”
Amber Freeman, RN, heads up the Structured Outpatient Program at Pioneer Community Hospital of Stokes. Her program works primarily with senior adults who suffer conditions related to depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. Freeman said that there are a number of barriers locally in providing mental health services.
She said, “Part of the challenge we see is that the Stokes County culture does not see mental health as a real medical discipline. People in rural areas often have the mentality that ‘I can handle this problem on my own.’ The reality however, is that a mental illness is just as real as a skin disease or a broken leg. It needs to be treated to get better. Treatment involves a number of components. There is a trend locally and nationally where people think a pill will fix their problem. Medication is only a part of the process.”
Common symptoms related to mental health include change in appetite, fatigue and loss of energy, sleep disturbances, restlessness, anger or rage, memory problems, suicidal thoughts, difficulty concentrating, social withdrawal, fluctuations in weight and feelings of guilt.