CENTREVILLE — Businesses concerned about employee welfare have a new resource in addressing the challenge of mental illness in and out of the workplace.
The newly expanded Behavioral Health Center at Touchette Regional Hospital serves clients with a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, mood disorders and more. Those maladies can be especially acute in the workplace where premiums are placed on production, safety and teamwork.
The $10 million center includes a 13,534-square-foot expansion, which increased inpatient bed capacity from 12 to 30 beds. The hospital complex is located at 5900 Bond Ave.
The center is a unique collaboration between Touchette and HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville. The latter is closing its inpatient service and integrating it into the service at Touchette. Hospitals Sisters Health System, the parent company of HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, said it guaranteed a $10 million loan to Touchette for the expansion.
Touchette estimates it will serve more than 2,000 patients in 2016 on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. The Behavioral Health Center accepts most insurances, including Medicaid and Medicare.
Touchette offers employee assistance programs and welcomes related questions from business, said Dr. Desarie Holmes, director of the Behavioral Health Center.
“A lot of businesses actually do have that program or something similar to it for their employees. If there are issues that are going on, the employee can contact their employee assistance program and they will typically provide up to six sessions of free counseling because it’s already a part of their benefits package,” she said.
Still, many workers are fearful of using such services.
“They think the information will go to back to their supervisor and that somehow whatever is shared in those private sessions will be used against them,” Holmes said. “Quite naturally, we have other contacts on the outside. I will provide contacts who are in private service. I go ahead and make that initial phone call so they can receive the treatment they need. Sometimes people are just seeking someone they can go and talk to privately.”
Often, general counseling can address problems brought on by divorce, separation, death or loss.
“The daily stress of life can compound and build and build until it’s something much more serious,” Holmes said. “One of the things we do is help people understand that they can’t do their best possible job if they are not in the best shape mentally or otherwise,” she said.
She is frequently called by businesses to provide in-service sessions to speak about mental illness, the basic signs, symptoms and care. Many of the businesses are smaller ones, with less than 25 employees. Those relations are important in trying to convey what mental illness looks like or feels like.
“It’s very tangible,” said Holmes, who also speaks to church groups, social organizations and schools. Behavioral Health Center also has a community intake coordinator who participates in such sessions.
Addressing the stigma is a big part. An estimated one in four people are affected by some kind of mental illness.
The center features a welcoming, open concept — as opposed to centers that focus more on confinement and isolation. Once stabilized, inpatient clients experience an increased level of socialization and engagement with fellow patients and health-care providers through recreational therapy, support groups and activity therapy.
The center also treats patients on an outpatient basis through medication management, group therapy sessions, and individual and family therapy. It also offers an intensive outpatient program for adolescents ages 12 to 17 every afternoon where professional therapists work closely with clients, schools and other health-care providers to develop treatment plans individually tailored to each teen’s needs.
Holmes describes the center as unique in the area.
“The biggest thing, we took the walls down. You look around and see windows with natural light. Yes, it is an extraordinarily secure facility, no doubt about that, lots of doors, lots of locks. But at the same time we have a very integrative staff that are going to be much more impacting, as opposed to the old model, where everybody’s behind glass. A person comes up and knocks on the glass, it’s very impersonal and creates a barrier,” she said.
By building trust and engaging clients, they become more comfortable and more focused on their recovery so that they reintegrate into life sooner with a “stronger sense of self,” she said.
Despite the openness there are “safety mechanisms” to protect against anyone who is psychotic or violent. Those individuals can be separated in such a way that it improves the level of care for all concerned, she said.
Holmes’ specialty area is childhood adolescence, but she also has training in community violence/post traumatic stress disorder.
Much emphasis is placed on addressing mental illness as a community. Behavioral Health Center works with other area hospitals as well as nonprofits like Hoyleton Ministries and Children’s Home and Aid Society and hotline referrals.
Leaders of the hospitals talked of the community approach in their remarks during the grand opening in January.
Jim Dover, the current Southern Illinois division president of HSHS, said HSHS has more than a century of experience partnering with other organizations to advance medical care in the region.
“This is another great example, and I hope this type of partnership will inspire others. The regional approach is absolutely imperative. When two very good, dedicated community organizations work together, this is the result of that type of partnership. This is the model of care going forward in Southern Illinois.”
Larry McCulley, president and CEO of Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, which runs Touchette Hospital as a controlled affiliate, praised HSHS St. Elizabeth.
“This all started five years ago in conversations with Mark Reifsteck (former president and CEO of Hospital Sisters Health Systems), discussing some different approaches to marketing,” he said. “That really laid the foundation for what we have today. We spent a lot of hours in our offices, on emails, on the phone, texting. He helped guide a lot of the conversation from the local community to the corporate office.”
In a statement regarding its partnership with Touchette, St. Elizabeth’s said it is working more closely with the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation to more effectively coordinate and increase access to Behavioral Health services.
“St. Elizabeth’s will continue to collaborate with Touchette and other health care providers from across the Metro East to build a stronger network of care for patients suffering from mental illnesses, the statement said.
Dover said there is still a “fundamental goal” to be met, and that is bringing coverage and access to behavioral health to the same level as routine medical care.
“Today is a good start. Parity should be our goal. No patient should have to choose whether or not to get help with behavioral health disease because we don’t have a comprehensive policy toward behavioral health coverage,” Dover said.
General contractor on the project was Holland Construction Services, of Swansea. President Mike Marchal said the job came in on time and under budget. The Lawrence Group, based in St. Louis, served as architects.
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