Unit helps patients return to emotional wellness

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 20, 2006

For those who work in the New Day Senior Care Unit at L.V. Stabler Memorial Hospital, each day brings new experiences for its staff and those in their care.

While other parts of the hospital focus on returning patients to good physical health, the goal of the senior care unit is this: to return seniors, ages 55 and up, to emotional wellness.

&uot;We look at ways we can help the patients and their situations. We can’t ‘fix’ their problems, but we can make their stay a pleasant one,&uot; Heidi Smith, therapist and marketing director for the unit, said.

Melvia Carter is the Senior Care program director and Dr. Fortunate Ovbiagele, known affectionately by the staff as &uot;the chief,&uot; serves as staff psychiatrist. The unit has been in place at L.V. Stabler since 1994.

&uot;These two run a good, tight ship and they keep us on track, making it a good working environment,&uot; Smith said.

&uot;Most of our staff has been here for several years; we have a very low turnover rate. The fact we are so well established and have that longevity of staff has brought us many referrals from around and beyond our state.&uot;

The majority of patients referred to the 13-bed unit &uot;have some type of dementia,&uot; Smith said. Depression, schizophrenia and similar diagnoses are not uncommon.

Most patients are admitted for a period of 10-14 days, though some may have a longer stay. Local medical doctors also monitor the patients during their stay on the senior care unit.

Psychotropic medications and therapy are used in a &uot;very individualized way,&uot; R.N. Sharon Hall, outreach coordinator, said.

&uot;We focus on everything from the proper way to wash their hands, to talking about exactly how an anti-depressant works. That’s how widespread the functioning level is on the unit.&uot;

Senior care also offers its patients group activities, including exercise programs and crafts the patients can participate in during their time on the unit.

A special courtyard, featuring umbrella-covered tables and chairs and surrounded by a privacy fence, allows the patients to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors on pleasant days.

&uot;You try to make it feel as much like home and as comfortable as possible for them – after all, some of them think this IS their home,&uot; Hall said.

Working with family members is also an important part of the process, Smith said.

&uot;The families can spend time with Dr. Ovbiagele. He loves teaching family members about the facets of dementia and the best way to deal with their loved ones – he is really good with the families.&uot;

And while dementia is progressive, &uot;there are ways to make patients as manageable as possible, and to make life easier for the patients and their families. That’s why we are here,&uot; Hall said.

For those in need of services the local unit cannot provide, such as someone under age 55, &uot;we will refer them to someone else who can help them. We try to give as much assistance as possible,&uot; Hall added.

Of the approximate 2,000 patients served by Senior Unit in its 12 years, the unit has seen a very low recidivism rate, Smith said.

The marketing director thinks the resources offered by the L.V. Stabler Senior Care Unit are often overlooked locally.

&uot;We want people to know we are here, and we want to be able to help people in this community who need our services. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues; some people are afraid of treatment. We are working to overcome that stigma.&uot;