Helping the mentally ill in short term

April 05, 1994|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

An Annapolis-based company specializing in the treatment of the mentally ill has opened its first Anne Arundel County facility in a Pasadena shopping center.

American Day Treatment Centers, which now runs five facilities in Maryland, started accepting patients March 28 for intensive, daylong therapy. The center's official opening is Friday.

Executive Director Heidi Katz said the center will specialize in short-term care for patients experiencing crises with depression or other serious mental problems. The company will focus mostly on the treatment of adolescents and the elderly, groups that "have traditionally been under-served," she said.

"We treat people who are having acute psychotic episodes," she said. The average length of treatment for adolescents is 15 to 20 days and about 30 to 60 days for adults and the elderly.

Herbert S. Gross, director of the county's Division of Mental Health and Addictions, said companies such as American Day Treatment fill a gap in services for the mentally ill.

Managed health care organizations and insurance companies have forced shorter stays in psychiatric hospitals to cut costs, he said. Day treatment programs allow patients to receive intensive therapy for less money, which means insurers often will pay for longer treatment.

"Many patients need longer amounts of time to adjust to the onset of an acute illness," he said. "That used to happen in inpatient settings for six weeks to two months, but not anymore. Now, day treatment can offer that."

Dr. Gross said the health department offered a similar program for several years ago but closed it in 1990 because of budget cuts. Another private venture, by Psychiatric Institute of Washington, lasted only a year, closing about six months ago, he said.

"I think it's a great thing. I hope they can make a go of it," he said.

Ms. Katz said the company selected the Festival at Pasadena shopping center for its newest facility because it is centrally located and easy to get to. For too many years, she said, the mentally ill were sent to out-of-the-way places for treatment. Community-based treatment is more convenient for patients and allows family members to be involved as well.

Ms. Katz expects that most of the center's patients will be depressed or suicidal, but she said that it also will accept patients with other disorders, including schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse problems.

The goal is to stabilize patients so they can return to living in the community as quickly as possible.

Most of the center's clients will be referred by private doctors, teachers, relatives or friends, she said. However, the center also will accept self-referrals.

New patients are evaluated to decide whether they will benefit from the center's structured, daylong treatment or would be better served by more traditional programs.

American Day Treatment differs from many outpatient programs because patients are in therapy eight hours, five days a week, at least initially. After several weeks, that may be reduced to four or three days a week.

The program differs from inpatient treatment, frequently offered in psychiatric hospitals, because patients don't live at the center.

"We're working toward normalizing people's routines," said Ms. Katz. "They receive the treatment they need, but they get to go home at night and on the weekends." The center even has an accredited school program so that school-aged patients can attend classes three hours a day to keep up with their studies.

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