By Avery Rowlison
Poweshiek County Mental Health Center (PCMHC) will be closing their doors April 13 due to bankruptcy. In response to the closure of Grinnell’s largest mental healthcare provider, Grinnell Regional Medical Center (GRMC) has created a mental healthcare clinic to fill PCMHC’s shoes. Denoted the Grinnell Regional Mental Health Clinic (GRMHC), the new institution is already operating on a limited basis.
“The [GRMHC] is already opened, and we’ve started providing medication management. Right now, we have a program where we have an advanced registered nurse practitioner [ARNP] who does telepsych … as well as a physician’s assistant, and we have a psychiatrist who is our medical director and that is Dr. Laura Van Cleve. She is also going to be working with us for a day and a half [each week], but that won’t start until July,” said Suzanne Cooner, Vice-President of Operations at GRMC.
Telepsych is a program where the patients can video chat confidentially with a physician’s assistant (PA) or an ARNP about managing their medications.
The clinic, which will eventually be housed on the third floor of the Ahrens Medical Arts Building, is still being constructed, but it will occupy a temporary space in Grinnell Family Practice in the same building until the construction is completed.
One of the ways the closure will impact the Grinnell community is that some people may need to see a new counselor, which can be a disruptive influence in an individual’s therapy.
“Sometimes transferring to a new therapist can feel like a loss, and it’s a process,” said Harriett Dickey-Chasins, Director of Student Health and Counseling and Lead Psychologist at the College. “Sometimes it feels like an opportunity [to learn] something from someone new.”
GRMHC is working to address this issue by maintaining continuity between patient and therapist as much as possible.
“Some of the staff over at [PCMHC] are considering the possibility of coming to work for us, and there are some therapists there who will probably contract with us so that [patients] have a good transition,” Cooner said. “It’s very important that, as much as we can, [we] allow people to remain with their current therapists because once people have established a relationship, it’s a little bit difficult on people to change who they’re seeing, so we’re doing everything we can to keep [patients] with their same therapists.”
The clinic will start offering counseling services on April 15 and will eventually employ four therapists: one pediatric psychologist, one psychologist for adults, a social worker and a licensed marriage/family counselor, as well as a psychiatrist and an ARNP or PA. Additionally, GRMHC has reached an agreement with PCMHC’s psychologist that will allow her to continue diagnostic work on a contractual basis.
PCMHC also gave their clients the opportunity to follow their therapists wherever they happen to go. While some therapists are staying in the community, some are moving farther away to Capstone Behavioral Healthcare in Newton or as far as Ames.
Dickey-Chasins was optimistic about the transition.
“It’s going to be a lot of transition for people, but not as much as we might fear,” Dickey-Chasins said. “I think quite a few people will be able to at least finish this year with the therapist they’ve been seeing.”
Another issue Cooner anticipates is that some people may find the transition to going to the hospital for their mental healthcare uncomfortable. She assures that GRMHC is dedicated to making the process as pleasant as possible.
“Our whole premise behind what we’re trying to do is to treat people with dignity and respect and make sure people don’t feel like it’s anything different than coming to any other medical professional, and take the stigma of mental health out of the area,” Cooner said. “I think it’s time that people are starting to understand that our mental health is part of our overall health and that’s what we’re here for.”
Despite the change in providers, Dickey-Chasins believes that students shouldn’t worry about the referral process becoming muddled: the transition for Student Health and Counseling Services (SHACS) will be a smooth one. According to her, the therapists at SHACS are quite used to working with therapists from all around the community, much more so than most students realize.
“People might not be aware that we have had therapists all over the community for a while now. Prior to the Mental Health Center closing … we’ve been referring students to private practitioners as well as to people at the community mental health centers,” Dickey-Chasins said. “For a little rural Iowa town, we’ve had very good referral resources and this is just going to broaden that. So that really won’t be a change.”
In Dickey-Chasins’ opinion, the response to PCMHC’s closing has been not only remarkable, but well organized, efficient and timely.
“They [GRMHC] have done this so quickly. They are already providing psychiatric services. They’re expecting to offer counseling services starting April 15. If anybody had told me that the Mental Health Center was going to close abruptly and that we would have a working replacement mental health clinic in this community in under a month, I would have said, ‘You’re delusional.’ I am really delighted with what they’re doing,” Dickey-Chasins said.
SHACS will continue to update their website with incoming information regarding the local mental healthcare providers in the community, which can be found at http://www.grinnell.edu/offices/studentaffairs/health/health-mhresources.