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Mental health: More in focus

February 28, 2013
By KAYLA VAN DYNE - Times Leader Staff Writer , Times Leader

The Ohio Valley has been making strides in the mental health field, local physicians say, from opening up several facilities that provide a safe environment for those who are in need to making mental health a part of the curriculum at local colleges.

But there is still more that can be done and more that needs to be done, particularly following the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in December.

"As a whole we lag behind (in mental health); we focus more on the physical screening, but it is not unique to this area. We are playing catch up," said Dr. Angelo Georges, chief medical officer at Wheeling Hospital.

Article Photos

Photo by Shelley Hanson
John Antal, left, director of the Robert C. Byrd Child & Adolescent Mental Health Center in Wheeling, and Creative Arts therapist Valerie Fincham pose with some of the artwork created by children during therapy sessions.

In the Ohio Valley, there are a number of facilities that cater to the mentally ill.

"We have a variety of different facilities that implement education and counseling and therapeutic needs for mentally ill, even diverse groups of special populations and special diagnoses," said Kristin Wittenbrook, marketing director for the Country Club Retirement Campus, who holds a master's degree in forensic psychology. "I think we are taking a positive approach by continuing education with that. Look at Belmont College, they have a mental health program ... that is a hard program. I think one of the downfalls we do have in our mental health recovery for people is people going in and out of jail."

Those who are constantly in and out of prison are often overlooked and not given the proper treatment or rehabilitation, which could result in entering the prison system again.

"There are so many individual counselors ... we are stacked good with professionals to help people with mental illnesses but I think our focus also needs to be on rehabilitating the hardcore criminals," said Wittenbrook.

Another issue that Georges feels contributes to the mental health problems in the area is the economy.

"Because of the economy in this area there is more depression ..." Georges said. "But we are making great progress."

The senior population also faces depression, from the loss of loved ones and the loss of their independence, where they are now in a nursing home or living with other family members rather than in their own home. This can lead to depression.

"Certainly they are going to be depressed about moving out of what they worked for their whole entire life and that is why we have a psychologist that comes in weekly and does counseling here, at Country Club Retirement Campus," said Wittenbrook. "With the dynamic change of life in any situation, there is a trigger for anxiety, depression or any other matter."

In Bellaire, Belmont Community Hospital houses the county's only inpatient psychiatric facility, and what is known as the Behavioral Medicine Center at BCH is expanding.

The Behavioral Medicine Center, a division of Wheeling Hospital, is increasing the number of beds from 10 to 16 to provide care to additional patients. It offers acute, short-term, multidisciplinary mental health treatment to adults with psychiatric diagnoses that require stabilization in a 24-hour secured setting.

"In collaboration with a highly trained team of health care professionals, individual patient needs are monitored and evaluated, determining the recommended level of care and length of treatment," said John DeBlasis, BCH administrator.

The center routinely treats patients with disorders that present unique care issues. Treatment plans, mental status assessments, depression scales, psychosocial and occupational therapy are all used to care for patients. Family and group therapy sessions also are offered.

"Our mission is to provide safe, effective and efficient psychiatric care that will contribute to the total care of the patient and be designed to help the patient regain and maintain his/her maximum degree of health upon returning home," DeBlasis said. "We also foster and encourage an atmosphere of compassion conducive to caring for patients."

Treatment at the BCH center is conducted by the team of Neurobehavioral Medicine Consultants, led by Dr. Ali Melhem. The consultants are based in St. Clairsville.

"We are fortunate to have a group of this caliber offering this much-needed treatment in our area," said DeBlasis said. "By using this team, we are ensuring that even upon discharge our patients will receive a continuum of care."



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