Psychiatric Care Is Vital

Editor, News-Register:

Seriously, no offense, but until you’ve been there, lived it, witnessed it, worked it, you have no clue. I’ve worked in mental health as a psych nurse for over 24 years, 20 of those years at OVMC Hillcrest. The devastating effect from the loss of mental health care in the Ohio Valley cannot be stressed enough.

Here are some scenarios that we see on a daily basis. When your mother is becoming more and more confused, stays up all night, sweet lady is now combative, delusional, calling 911 believing someone is in the basement, meds are poison, won’t take them or eat … who will help you … dad says he can no longer manage her at home.

You take her to the hospital ER; they have no reason to admit her, they say there’s nothing medically/physically wrong with her. She doesn’t meet criteria for admission to the medical floor. Where do you turn? Who can care for her, help you? Currently OVMC/Hillcrest. We will admit her, diagnose her, discover the source of her mental status change, adjust medications and work with you to find placement, should you want that.

You see a change in your teenager, noticing she always has her arms covered, then you find out she’s been cutting herself, depressed, suicidal. Who will help her? We will at our adolescent/child unit at OVMC/Hillcrest.

Your son is stealing money, your meds, threatening family members. Who can help you? Here in West Virginia, you can file commitment papers on someone you feel is a danger to themselves and is either mentally ill or addicted to drugs or both. At Hillcrest, we service three counties (Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel). Your loved ones are brought to OVMC where they are medically cleared and a probable cause hearing will be held. The overwhelming number of patients are committed and they will remain at Hillcrest for treatment. So far this year we’ve had 300-plus hearings. A few of our commitments are sent out, but now they all will have to be sent out.

Our Ohio County Sheriff’s Dept. can’t handle the transportation issues now, transporting only two days a week for those being sent out. Currently they stay on our unit for treatment until transport; where will they stay now? Imagine now, they’ll be released or there will have to be daily trips downstate because there will be no Hillcrest (locked units are required for commitments; Hillcrest is a locked unit.) Sheriffs will be driving downstate daily. There goes your tax dollar to pay for sheriff’s deputies’ overtime or they won’t be around when you need them as they’ll be transporting. Some days we have four mental hygiene hearings a day. Did you know how dangerous it is to detox off alcohol and/or benzodiazepine (Xanax, etc.)? A person could die if not treated properly, who will take care of these patients now? Let alone those doing drugs.

People coming on certain drugs can be floridly psychotic, paranoid, violent. Where are they going to go now? The mentally challenged patient who is becoming more aggressive and his aging parents who can’t manage him anymore: Who will be there to help them? The homeless who have lost everything, becoming suicidal, nowhere to turn — who will guide them to available services?

The schizophrenic who takes a box cutter because the voices told him to — who will keep him safe until he gets back on his meds? No longer will the policeman who finds one of our patients in need on streets, ask them “Do you want to go to Hillcrest or jail?” The patient being released from ICU after a recent overdose, who is now medically cleared, but not safe to return home due to suicidal thoughts? The alcoholic going through DTs? Mental illness is a chronic illness; probably 75% of our patients are known to us. You must realize the comfort they feel when they see us. They know us, they feel safe, we know them and their issues. One cannot put a value on this.

We reassure them that we’ll take care of them, they’re safe now, they’ve been in this bad spot before and we’re here to help. Now, there’s the possibility they’ll be sent away. This is not good care for a paranoid person or someone who has trust issues. Our patients don’t stay in their hospital rooms; there’s a program here, a team. They are involved in various treatment modalities on a daily basis. They meet with their psychiatrist daily, interact with nurses and mental health techs, meet with medical doctor to identify issues needing addressed. They attend various therapy groups.

They meet with therapists and social workers regarding treatment goals, discuss placement if needed, discharge planning, attend treatment team meetings, and family meetings. If desired they can meet with minister or SAHC (sexual assault help center).

When they are discharged, psychiatric follow up appointments have been made for them to help ensure compliance. Now what will happen to your loved one? Do you want your loved one sent two hours away (children and adults) or possibly to another state? People may not file involuntary commitment papers because they don’t want their loved ones sent away.

For some, we are their family, we are their support. What message are we sending in the Ohio Valley? What will happen to them? Our patients are assessed by staff trained in mental health who are aware of options and resources available to them. You just don’t build this team overnight. Our ER doctors work with our psychiatrist to work with the patients and their families to decide what options are available. Who is trained and will be providing these services now?

I hate to think what will happen to our patients when they do not know where they can turn for help. Psych is a speciality and we have a great team at OVMC (this team also includes our ER, ICU, TCU, 5 West, hospitalists). We’re in this field because we love it, we care about our patients and the Ohio Valley. We realize the importance of mental health. We live it on a daily basis. OVMC/EORH: where caring is a way of life. Let’s keep it that way.

Connie Biega

Wheeling

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