Meeting needs

Joan Monahan, a licensed professional counselor, left, and Diane Ricci, program manager, right, are part of the health care team for the new senior outpatient behavioral health program at Shenandoah Memorial in Woodstock. Monahan runs the group as the therapist. Rich Cooley/Daily

Health initiatives this year are aimed at providing the Northern Shenandoah Valley with the best care possible.

The addition of senior behavioral health outpatient centers in Woodstock and Winchester, planned additions to Winchester Medical Center and Shenandoah Memorial Hospital seek to make more services available locally so patients won’t have to travel far for care.

New in the last year, Valley Health’s Senior Outpatient Behavioral Health Program offers services for patients 55 and older who are experiencing significant psychiatric issues stemming from life transitions, grief and loss, relationships, physical changes or other challenges.

The program began in Winchester in December 2013 and expanded to Woodstock last October, said Randy Reed, director of Behavioral Health Services at Winchester Medical Services.

Behavioral health is one of the largest mental health needs in our area, said Dr. Thomas Cardwell, medical director at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital.

This is a rendering of Shenandoah Memorial Hospital's new emergency room and doctor's office building that is under construction and expected to be completed in May 2016.

But because of their age, area seniors often struggle with feelings of depression that their younger family members or friends might not understand.

He said the program offers a necessary boost for those who otherwise might have to be admitted to an emergency room.

“It’s a pretty perfect match for the community,” he said.

The intensive approach offers patients a rotation of group therapy with a licensed clinician up to three times a day, two or three days a week for six to eight weeks. The format suits seniors, who in other behavioral health programs might be matched with teenagers or adults in their 20s and 30s.

Being able to discuss concerns of grief and loss with others in their age group is huge, said Diane Ricci, program manager in Woodstock.

“[Seniors are] able to identify with each other,” she said.

In Winchester, the program is the first step toward a greater effort Reed said he hopes will include a 10-bed inpatient unit in a currently unoccupied space. The unit would offer private rooms separate from a nearby 26-bed inpatient behavioral health unit of semi-private rooms for younger adults, he said.

“There are times when we’ve had patients in the emergency room, and if we had this unit we could admit them,” Reed said.

As it is, the hospital sends patients as far away as The Pavilion at Williamsburg, which Reed said has a dedicated space for treating seniors for behavioral health needs. In particular, he said, the new unit would help severely depressed residents of nursing homes.

Valley Health planned on submitting a Certificate of Public Need application to the Virginia Department of Health earlier this month and should hear back on a decision by Aug. 15. If approved, the health system will move forward with the renovation.

Staff in the senior unit would be dedicated to that space, and Reed said Valley Health expects the expansion to allow for new jobs.

Valley Health also uses telemedicine to involve emergency room patients at Shenandoah Memorial, Warren Memorial and Page Memorial and determine inclusion in the Winchester inpatient behavioral health program.

“It’s great in areas where you don’t have the resources,” Reed said.

This May, Winchester Medical Center plans to break ground on its 52,000-square foot oncology unit, but Valley Health President and CEO Mark Merrill said the project is about more than a new building.

It’s about the programs.

Like in a sports franchise, he said, you have to have all the right elements to make it work. Early discussions about the facility focused on what Valley Health wanted for its cancer center, such as genetic testing, moral support groups and computer assisted mammography.

“It was helpful,” he said. “With cancer, it’s not just the patient’s journey, it’s the family’s journey.”

Support groups, education, Reiki and music therapy, assistive therapy and mindfulness of how patients deal with stress were all considered when designing the layout of the building and inclusion of services.

Valley Health also discussed plans with families to determine how the new hospital unit would best suit the needs of everyone who spends time there.

Cancer isn’t the death sentence it was 20 years ago, he said, and survival rates are pretty high, so one of the goals of offering the new facility is to inspire hope.

Included in the building design are a bright, open feeling to give hallways a more contemporary style, and an outdoor healing garden that should encourage patients and their loved ones outdoors when the weather is nice.

The closest other cancer centers are at Rockingham Memorial in Harrisonburg and at Berkeley Memorial in Martinsburg, West Virginia, Merrill said.

In anticipation of the Winchester cancer center, area specialists have begun moving services to the hospital, bringing with them medical and radiological oncology and surgical oncology.

So far, the hospital has received $8 million in gifts and pledges toward its goal of $10 million, Merrill said.

Shenandoah Memorial also intends to offer more services through a proposed emergency department and medical office building due to begin construction this spring and open about a year from now.

Services distributed throughout the Woodstock area will relocate to the hospital, centralizing them on the same campus and allowing for radiology, mammography and lab tests all in the same location, Merrill said.

The hospital has no plans for reviving maternity or delivery services that were closed and relocated to Warren Memorial Hospital in 2009, Merrill confirmed.

Physicians in Shenandoah County provide prenatal and gynecological services, Dr. Floyd Heater, president of Shenandoah Memorial Hospital said in an interview last year. In an emergency, hospital physicians can treat patients in labor.

However, Heater said, “We are not set up to deliver here.”

Calling the decision to move services to Warren County multi-faceted, he said it was based in large part on a lower population of expectant families in Shenandoah County.

“We were delivering a little under 300 babies a year,” he said. “It’s not very cost effective to do that.”

As a critical care hospital with Medicare designation, he said the facility is also limited to a 25 inpatient maximum.

But improvements are planned for the new emergency center. Rooms previously separated by curtains will have walls, and 12 bay rooms will become 17 contemporary private rooms.

Vanderbilt Hall will be demolished to make room for a medical office building offering cardiology, urology and behavioral outpatient health.

“We’re very excited about it,” Merrill said.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or