New television show highlights mental health in the community

By Douglas McCulloch | Jan 30, 2018
Photo by: Douglas McCulloch Laura Zambardi, Debbie Hayes, and Dr. Michael Liebowitz.

A new television program is shining the spotlight on mental health, with a goal of raising awareness about resources within the community for those in need.

The show, called "Mind Matters," was produced in collaboration with Dartmouth Community Television and Southcoast Behavioral Heath. The pilot episode offers an inside look at the operation and support programs offered at the new Faunce Corner Road psychiatric hospital, which opened in 2015.

For now, only the pilot episode has been filmed. It will air sometime in February after editing is complete. In the episode, Business Developer Laura Zambardi offers a tour of the services and programs offered at Southcoast Behavioral Health -- one of the first facilities of its kind built in the region -- which is already experiencing high demand.

Opened in 2015 as a partnership between Acadian Healthcare and Southcoast Health, it replaced the much smaller Rogers Unit at St. Luke’s Hospital to fulfill mental health care needs that had outgrown the New Bedford hospital.

On any given day, 116 beds are filled, Zambardi explained.

The facility includes five separate, secure units with 24 beds each. An adolescent unit serves children between the ages of 13-17 and 18-year-olds if they are still in high school. There are three adult units, as well as a geriatric unit for seniors suffering from issues such dementia who need closer supervision.

Director of Nursing Debbie Hayes, who formerly worked in the original Rogers Unit, noted that many therapeutic and recreational activities are utilized, including music, karaoke, and even pet therapy. The facility also offers many services to children who may be especially having a hard time.

“We actually have an on-site school for them so they don’t miss as much school while they’re in the hospital,” Hayes said.

The facility also includes a gym, gated outdoor paths designed to appear open, and a recreation program supervised by former Detroit Lions player Joe Felton.

Most patients are brought to the hospital in crisis from the emergency rooms at St. Luke’s and St. Anne’s in Fall River, and pass through a through admissions process overseen by registered nurses, Zambardi said.

Dr. Michael Liebowitz was appointed chief medical officer only a few months ago, but he’s already quickly settled into his role overseeing patient care and the eight full-time psychiatrists and a nurse practitioner on staff.

The goal, he explained, is to get patients feeling better and ready to head home with a well-defined post-care plan as quickly as possible. That may mean adjusting medications, consulting with patients’ existing doctors and mental health staff, or setting up appointments and getting each patient into a routine treatment plan before being discharged.

“We like to work together with patients as much as possible,” Liebowitz said. “Patient and family involvement is very important to what we do.”

The average inpatient stay at Southcoast Behavioral Health is seven to ten days.

Complicating matters, however, is the concept of dual diagnosis, in which a patient has a mental illness and a substance abuse issue at the same time. It accounts for close to 70 percent of the hospital’s admissions, and usually requires a combination of detoxification from the abused drug -- commonly alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines -- and treatment of the underlying mental health problems.

“We’ve found a huge need to address dual-diagnoses with co-existing mental health issues,” Zambardi said.

Although only open for three years, Zambardi said expansion is in the future. The facility includes the shell of a sixth unit which is currently not in use, originally intended to be used as a daytime patient area. Officials are exploring adding patient rooms and expanding dual-diagnosis capabilities.

Southcoast staff member Carl Alves helped make the partnership possible. He approached DCTV with the idea several months ago at Rotary Club meeting, pitching the idea of a show centered on mental health.

“The building provides a great resource for those in our region who are in need,” Alves said.

He said future episodes will cover topics including substance abuse, eating disorders, and adolescent mental health.

For information about upcoming airings of the pilot episode of Mind Matters, visit town.dartmouth.ma.us/community-television-dctv.

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