Mental Health Services of Southern Oklahoma (MHSSO) has announced the opening of their psychiatric crisis unit located on the Mercy Hospital-Ardmore campus. With a full week of operation now “in the books” the staff is beginning to settle into a routine and local agencies and partners are beginning to know where to turn when a psychiatric emergency occurs. A variety of circumstances could lead to receiving care at the unit with suicidal ideas, active psychosis and other severe mental illnesses leading the reasons for admission. Since this is a psychiatric unit and does not have the capacity to care for serious physical illness the person must be considered “medically stable” to be admitted to the crisis unit. The site has been designated by the Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services as an “emergency detention” site, so some of those admitted are involuntary but there are voluntary admissions as well.
“The first week was very hectic” according to Pam Lynn, LPC who is the project manager, “but with everyone working together we were able to take care of a lot of people.” With the unit officially opening February 18th with 16 beds available, by Tuesday, February 19, the beds were all full. “That was unexpected and it was like going from 0 to 100 all at once” according to Lynn. The unit adds the beds to the state system so people have been sent to Ardmore from other parts of the state when those communities did not have any beds available. “Since we are a crisis stabilization unit and not considered a hospital, there is a limit on how long a person can stay” Lynn reported. State law allows for “five days, not counting weekends or holidays, so it could be 7 or 8 days total” she stated. “Our goal is to help people get back on their feet quickly so we hope to not keep them here that long, but we will do what is necessary.” Lynn noted that in some cases the status of the person on the unit is an emergency detention and so the doors are locked to provide security. She went on to say “we only serve adults at this facility and there are no children’s units in southern Oklahoma so kids will still need to go to Norman or Oklahoma City.”
According to Robert Lee, LCSW, Executive Director, “This is the first location in the state to be developed by a partnership in the community that includes both crisis beds (16) and a new concept of a 23 hour stabilization program (6 units).” The model was developed at the Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson, AZ and has been seen as a way to keep people out of the courts and state hospital setting, keep them in their community and get them back to stable functioning as soon as possible. “The model we have adopted is also unique in that we use telehealth technology to provide psychiatric services.” Dr. Jeff McIlroy, a psychiatrist in Tulsa, has extensive experience working with the crisis unit in Muskogee using this technology “so he has been a great assistance in getting our program operational” according to Lee. On site staff include nurses, Licensed Mental Health Professionals, case managers, recovery support specialists and nursing assistants. There are 3 shifts per day with a nurse and LMHP leading the effort during the day, nurses provide the medical intervention and treatment and the LMHP provides assessments, counseling as well as treatment planning. The case managers’ help with living arrangements and other matters needed to return to the community including working with friends and family to develop a successful discharge plan. “We do have privacy guidelines to follow, but we encourage involvement of family whenever appropriate” Lynn stated. Families can visit after the person has been here for 24 hours with visitation on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 6-7PM. The recovery support specialist provides a unique perspective on treatment and helps the consumer navigate the sometimes bewildering behavioral health system. The nursing assistants provide support to the doctor and nurse in carrying out the medical treatment and other unit functions.
The unit did not develop easily or quickly and has been a community effort that involved several partners including MHSSO, Mercy Hospital-Ardmore, The Southern Oklahoma Memorial Foundation, the Jerome Westheimer Family Foundation and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The funding was approved by the Oklahoma State legislature last session and the planning for the unit began last summer with representatives from MHSSO, Mercy Hospital and Ardmore Police Department meeting to consider options. Recognizing the extreme need in this part of the state was the first step in getting the project off the ground. MHSSO responded to the RFP with the provision of space provided by Mercy, staffing by MHSSO and start-up funds provided by the SOMF and Westheimer Foundation. “If any piece had been missing we would not have been able to pull this off” Lee stated. “We have a long way to go to iron out all the wrinkles, but we are ahead of where we were last week” Lynn commented. “We are excited, ready and willing to help. I have a dedicated crew that really sees themselves as ‘part of the medicine’ that will help people recover from a serious episode, we can do this!” Lynn concluded.
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