HAMLET — FirstHealth of the Carolinas is bringing new services to the former Sandhills Regional Hospital, whose emergency room was permanently closed on March 6 after FirstHealth purchased the facility.
Mary Silverman, director of FirstHealth Behavioral Services, said this expansion will make certain kinds of specialized care available to patients locally.
“This service is an intensive outpatient program,” Silverman said. “It is intended to assist adults with psychiatric or chemical dependency issues, and can be used as a step-down for people coming out of a hospital environment, or as a more intensive program than straight outpatient clinical services — hopefully as a way to prevent a hospitalization.”
Moore County, she said, has offered the program for some time and that it has been successful in treating people battling depression, addictions and post-traumatic stress.
“It deals with myriad issues people experience,” Silverman explained. “It’s not cookie-cutter. There are many complicated reasons people resort to alcohol or drugs to numb themselves. With human beings, everybody has a different problem.”
Silverman said some people emerge from the program having had an “ah ha!” moment, while others seem not to get it. This program, she said, strives to evaluate and treat every patient as a unique case in hopes of positive outcomes.
For many years, Silverman added, psychiatric patients and people gripped by chemical dependencies — not only in Richmond County, but nationwide — have gone without the kind of specialized care they need because of the scarcity of professionals in the field.
“It is a struggle, because in our community, if you look at the whole area and look at how many full-time psychiatrists there are for everyone in this area who needs them, we do not have enough,” she said. “Professionals trained in psychiatric treatment are hard to find, and we don’t have as many going into medical schools who go into this sub-specialty.”
In Hamlet, Silverman said, there will be a psychiatrist available at least once per week, and the hospital is in the process of hiring more providers to address the challenges of scarcity.
“In our IOS program, the patient will attend every day for five mornings a week, and the psychiatrist will be able to see them once a week,” she said. “They start at a higher intensity, and then we wean it down.”
Attending sessions five days a week in the beginning, for those for whom the intensive program is a good fit, allows the patients and providers time to work together, according to Silverman. For some patients whose illness has kept them out of work, the goal is to get them better and equip them with skills they will need to return to regular activity.
“We might get a referral for someone who has had an inpatient stay,” Silverman said. “Now they are in transition, and are coming back into a work environment. We work with the employers to help them make the adjustment if that is needed.”
According to informational materials about the IOS, “both the chemical dependency and psychiatric tracks have a setting that provides tools for recovery” and “the positive environment fosters support and change, allowing the client, whenever possible, to keep his or her job and maintain his or her home.”
“Clients are usually referred by a provider to come into the program, but people can self-refer as well,” Silverman said. “If somebody picked up the brochure about the program and wants to come talk to someone, they can call and we have a nurse who will do an assessment. The nurse may talk to the physician. But everyone is assessed.”
She said that teaching people coping strategies is a large part of how the program evolves.
“We’ve had people from rest homes, from group homes,” she said. “People who are having trouble getting along with other people, or who have suffered a crisis. Our feeling was to begin with this outpatient program and build on that to see what the community needs. And the more providers we hire, the more people we will have to send down to the Richmond Community.”
Working closely with recruiters to form “treatment teams” consisting of nursing staff, licensed therapists and case managers who provide services under the direction of a psychiatrist is the foundation of the IOS. Follow-up care after completion of the program is encouraged, and therapy options are offered.
“We are also exploring telepsychiatry,” Silverman said. “We are waiting for the equipment for that to arrive. With it, we can manage a crisis situation that may have required a long wait. The nurse may call with a recommendation, and because we have grown our system and we have that connectivity, we can have the psychiatrist see that person.”
Psychiatry, she said, is vastly different from other forms of medicine because the illnesses are not readily identifiable like a wound or the flu would be. The goal is to provide the best, individualized care and to improve patients’ quality of life.
“This is a level of care that works very well in helping people with their home and work environments, to them get back into their communities as quickly as possible,” she said. “I’m hoping it goes well (in Hamlet)…We have already had referrals and are admitting people….and there is a lot we can do to help people down there, I hope.”
For more information or to make a referral, call 910-205-8327.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673.