By Krystal Fowler Lifestyle Editor
The Daily Iowegian
---- — On April 1 a new five bed facility for mentally ill people in crisis opened in Centerville. Known as Oak Place, the facility hopes to serve a critical need in the community by providing an option besides hospitalization or jail for those suffering from mental illness in the community.
Appanoose County is part of the South Central Behavioral Health Region, along with Davis and Wapello counties. In October of 2013 the region began looking at ways to provide more treatment and care options for citizens with mental health issues and those in crisis.
“For those individuals that are in mental health crisis but not needing hospitalization…it helps keep patients home in their own community,” said Jackie Sharp executive director of Centerville Community Betterment.
The facility is open to anyone over the age of 18 with a mental health or dual diagnosis. Someone with a dual diagnosis may have both a mental illness diagnosis and an addiction, but the primary diagnosis is mental. The facility will be managed by Regina Lassabe with Centerville Community Betterment who has been contracted to run Oak Place.
The facility is known as a stabilization home and will be used as a diversion service to mental health inpatient hospitalization. According to Diane Buss, the Appanoose and Davis County central point coordinator for Mental Health Services, mental health patients who are in crisis because of psych-social issues can voluntarily enter Oak Place for a short term stay of up to five business days. While there, they will have a safe place to stay, medication management and connections to county relief funds for tangible help with rent, utilities, transpiration, food and other needs as identified.
“Our job is to help them overcome issues that they haven’t been able to do themselves,” said Sharp. “It might be getting in to see a psychiatrist. We have an agreement with our mental health center for next day service. It might be paying for medication. It might be rent assistance. They might be on the verge of being homeless.”
The main purpose of Oak Place is to allow patients a window in order to get back on their feet. All patients are voluntarily admitted. There are no court committals to the facility. And discharge begins on day one of a patients stay, with staff evaluating what the patient needs in order to return to the community in a successful manner.
“We have come up with this model of in-community care,” said Sharp.
Potential patients will usually come onto the radar of Oak Place through interactions with the emergency room, law enforcement or primary care physicians but families and caretakers can also get in touch with Centerville Community Betterment at (641) 437-1051.
Before the stabilization home was opened the group first put in place an emergency pre-screening system to help identify mentally ill individuals in Appanoose County who could be eligible for the unit. Working closely with Mercy Medical Center in Centerville, as well as law enforcement, four licensed social workers are now in place to complete pre-screenings of possible patients for Oak Place. About 50 pre-screenings have been completed since October.
“Mercy Hospital has worked with us in this process,” said Buss. “They are just a very important tool in this process.”
Oak Place is one of the first in community care programs in the state to be implemented since the change to regional mental health care. It is hoped that the facility will be a model for other regions to follow. Stabilization homes are currently being planned for both Wapello and Davis counties as well.
Steve Siegel with the Wapello County Board of Supervisors is the South Central Behavioral Health Region Governance Board chair. He visited Oak Place during their open house near the end of March and praised the facility.
“To me it’s just a humane, less costly, more effective alternative to emergency rooms and commitments,” said Siegel.
According to Sharp, the system grew out of a local mental health working group that was assembled last year that identified a gap in local care for the mentally ill and their families. That group included Sharp and Buss as well as Ann Young and Dewey McConville.
“The first thing mental health patients rely on is their family and their friends and after elongated periods of time, friends and family have nothing more to give,” said Sharp. “They’ve done everything they possibly can. And we run into families and patients that are disconnected because mental health affects your behavior and your social health. The bottom line is we run into many patients that have little or no family support and no financial resources and nowhere to turn.”
According to Buss in the past the way to deal with those patients was through the emergency room and then usually a 72 hour hold before the patients would be returned to the community with no local support.
“And we just think we’re proactively taking on a problem at its roots and dealing with it in county and spending what would potentially be a $10,000 hospital stay on practical in-community solutions,” said Sharp.
“We’re hoping that not only is it going to be a community based service that actually provides support for a mental health patient but it’s also going to be a cost saving service,” said Sharp. “We will in probably 10 to 15 percent of cases now we will be spending money on hospitalization but the other 85 percent of the time we’re going to be spending those dollars in county providing tangible services and care to those patients who need 24 hour support and that’s where this place comes in.”
“It can also be a stepping stone back down if someone goes into inpatient,” said Buss. “After 72 hours a lot of people aren’t ready yet…It could be another step coming back into the community…so it kind of works both ways.”
Overall, the goal of Oak Place is just to provide more options to patients as well as doctors and law enforcement officials.
“I can only really speak to Wapello County but we’ve had a huge increase over the last five years in commitments and in people with mental problems in the jail,” said Siegel. “Our jail population’s just been skyrocketing…a lot of that’s people in jail that probably shouldn’t be there but there’s been no alternative. Now we have an alternative.”
“Our sheriff estimated that 55 percent of our inmates currently have some type of mental health issue that’s not being met,” said Sharp.
Sharp said she hopes that Oak Place will provide a safe environment that will allow those suffering a mental health crisis time to recover without removing them from the community or from society at large.
“It takes mental health out of a criminal matter to more of a medical matter,” said Sharp.