OSWEGO — For 40 years, the words “mental health services” here have been synonymous with the words “Bunner Street.” But not any more.
Those days are over as Oswego Health takes its well-deserved position in the forefront of 21st century mental health services in its new $17 million Lakeview Center for Mental Health and Wellness on the old and long-vacant Price Chopper site at the northern end of East Second Street, at the corner of East Schuyler.
Almost twice the size of the Bunner Street facility, the Lakeview Center will not only serve more patients, it will do so in new ways, offering more services to a more diverse community both within the center and within the community and Central New York at large.
Jody Pittsley is the Associate Administrator of Behavioral Health Services at the Lakeview Center. With 60 employees overseeing the care of 20 inpatients, 12 geriatric patients, and rooms servicing 14 outpatients, Pittsley expects “we will be full, busy, and that we will be able to take care of our community.”
Along with physicians and social workers, the center provides five to six therapy aides per shift, five nurses per shift on days and evenings and two to three on nights.
Inpatient clients stay at the center for seven days on average with follow-up care provided within five to seven business days. The average geriatric patient stay is about 12 days, according to Pittsley.
“If a patient needs long-term care, we will reach out to a long-term care facility,” Pittsley said. “But we don’t have a lot of transfers out of here. I can count them on one hand for the whole year.
“We also receive patients from 28 different counties,” Pittsley continued. “We don’t just treat our community only. We really are working to coordinate with other areas that need the mental health treatment. We get about 60 to 80 referrals per month from other counties.”
However, she emphasized, “We make sure our community is taken care of first. We check with our ER, make sure we don’t have patients who are waiting for beds before we give away that last bed to someone from the outside. We take care of our community first.”
And though the center’s patient-centered care philosophy is the name of the game both inside and outside its walls, nowhere is that better exemplified than in the center’s widely-recognized team geared to patients outside, in Oswego Health’s growing community.
They call it the Assertive Community Treatment Team or ACT Team for short.
“We have a team of professionals that go out to a patient,” Pittsley explained. “Every day we come in and do a team meeting and discuss our patients. Currently we have 48 patients, but we want to expand our services to 60 patients, and we are expanding into Cayuga County, which is really an honor. Cayuga County doesn’t have a team like this, but our team was recognized for doing such a good job, that they asked us to expand. So, that was really positive for our team. So, we come in and we discuss each patient, and what the treatment is, and what are the needs for this week, and we use our boards to communicate who’s out where. They usually go with two people at all times for safety. We bring all services to them. Our medical providers go out to the homes as well.”
The professionals at the ACT Team meeting include a physician, a nurse practitioner, a director, a coordinator, an administrative secretary, a vocational specialist, a housing specialist, a social worker, a substance abuse specialist, a wellness specialist, a family specialist, and a peer specialist.
“A very well-rounded group of people,” Pittsley said.
“We go through each patient (every day). We provide at least six visits a month. So, on average, we should provide about 300. Our team, does about 700 a month. Our team goes above and beyond. If that patient needs something, they go out there, and they do it. We go and make sure those needs are met. So, our team is really out there with those patients. These are patients that need extra support in their home. Some of them don’t feel comfortable coming into an outpatient setting, so we really try to provide their services right at home.
“Sometimes people need medications daily brought to them,” Pittsley continued, “because if not, they’ll come up missing, or they’ll take too many, so we’ll go out even if we have to every single day to bring the right medications so that person can take their full meds every day. We’ll bring them to doctor’s appointments. We’ll bring them to any service that we don’t provide. The goal is to transition them back into community services within two to three years, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, and we have them for much longer.”
That medical care is one of the center’s major upgrades over what was offered at Bunner Street. The Lakeview Center offers a primary care service that the Bunner Street facility did not. “So now we’ll not only be able to provide mental health care,” Pittsley said, “but medical care as well, things that a lot of our patients do not have the opportunity to receive for various reasons.”
Privacy is a big concern here as is a sensitivity to patients’ emotional states. Ambulances pull up to the back doors instead of the front. Most of the inpatient rooms are private. Families can visit privately in special, private family rooms. There are comfort rooms for patients who are a little upset. Those didn’t exist at Bunner Street. And there’s a quiet room for patients who want to get away from the noise, or read a book, or color.
But along with all this, there is an overriding concern with security and patient safety.
“All of this is secure,” said Pittsley. Visitors check in through security. “We have a metal detector everyone will go through,” she said. There’s a security office right behind the front desk with cameras “they can see everything that’s going on throughout the buildings.” There are alarms.
There’s an activity room with cards, games, puzzles, journaling, and coloring, and right off it is an outdoor courtyard. “We’re very happy about this because it’s really secure,” said Pittsley. “It’s safe. We can take our patients out in the courtyard and don’t have to worry about anyone being able to leave. So, it’s a beautiful little courtyard.”
The patients’ rooms, all of which have bathrooms and showers, something Pittsley noted is rather unusual, are especially secure.
“One of the new features that we have for this building,” Pittsley said, “is if they (the patients) put any pressure along the top of the doors, if they try to put a hang sheet or something to harm themselves, it will alarm, and that’s really state of the art.” The alarm has to be turned off by a nurse, and a complete assessment of the patient is done.
The doors to the rooms are designed to slide left to right and also, with the flip of a lever, to swing out, preventing the possibility the patient could deny access to a nurse or other provider by trying to block the door.
The geriatric unit, for patients 55 and older, has eight private rooms and a bariatric room for weight issues. As with the inpatient unit for those 18 years old and up, the geriatric unit has a quiet room, a comfort room, and an activity room. Some of the common problems Pittsley cited of those in the geriatric group are an increase in medical issues, mobility issues, depression, flare ups in their schizophrenia, bipolar issues, and dementia. “Sometimes,” Pittsley said, “they just need a little extra TLC and maybe medication adjustment.”
Funding for the new center came in the form of a $13 million transformational grant from the State Department of Health with additional funds provided by corporations, organizations, and the Oswego community. Furthermore, Oswego Health’s board of directors committed to completing construction of this project. All in all, it totaled $17 million.
“It’s a transformative project,” said Michael Backus, former county clerk and now Oswego Health’s Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer. “This is a completely new day for behavioral services for us. Exactly what that grant was meant for, we did it.”
After being denied the grant in two previous attempts, said Pittsley, “our community and our directors came forward and really started bringing in some of our political people who can help fight for those monies and show the state what we’re working with, and show them what we needed in the community. And they all worked together, and we were able to be successful the third time around.”
By Thursday, Jan. 28, the Lakeview Center will be fully operational.
As for the Bunner Street location, the county owns the building and will take over the space once the new center is up and running.