Medical Center Receives Funding To Extend, Expand Special Program for Seniors

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ELIZABETH — The Trinitas Health Foundation has successfully obtained additional funds from a current benefactor to enhance a program at the Department of Behavioral Health & Psychiatry that benefits seniors who need mental health evaluation and treatment.

The Grotta Fund for Senior Care has agreed to add nearly $12,000 this year to the nearly $24,000 in funding it provided in 2009 to create the Enhanced Geriatric Outreach & Counseling Program that helps seniors to age in place with dignity, security, and loving care. In 2010, 31 patients and their families benefitted from the Enhanced Geriatric Outreach & Counseling Program at Trinitas.

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Kathy Mickel, an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) with prescriptive privileges who specializes in psychiatric issues in the geriatric population, manages the program that is part of the Department of Behavioral Health & Psychiatry at Trinitas. The Grotta Fund grant for 2011 will allow Trinitas to provide extensive mental health evaluation and treatment services for an additional 20 patients.

One such patient is “Harold,” an 85-year-old man whose wife passed away. His family became increasingly concerned about his mental state as he became more forgetful and struggled with daily activities. A diagnosis of dementia jeopardized his independent living and he soon took up residence with his daughter. All of these life-altering changes resulted in Harold experiencing depression and contemplating suicide.

Under the guidance of Kathy Mickel, Harold is taking the proper medications and has a new care plan to treat his dementia and depression. He is adjusting to his illness and his new living situation as he is encouraged to find new reasons to live a happy and healthy life. At the same time, Ms. Mickel provides Harold’s family with intensive caregiver education and makes sure the proper support systems are in place so they can properly manage the many changes that have occurred in their lives.

“The generous funding from the Grotta Fund helps us to act on one of the primary values of Trinitas — recognition and respect of the dignity and value of life in every stage and condition,” explains Nadine Brechner, Chief Development Officer and Executive Director of the Trinitas Health Foundation. “The Enhanced Geriatric Outreach and Counseling Program helps us address the growing mental health crisis which impacts one in four of the elderly in the community.”

To identify seniors who would benefit from the program, the Trinitas Geropsychiatry Department receives daily referrals from visiting nurses, social workers, physicians, senior housing, social workers, Jewish Family Services and other community agencies, the Union County Division on Aging, the Trinitas Mobile Psychiatric Outreach Program, Psychiatric Inpatient and Outpatient Departments and Psychiatric Emergency Services Unit.

“By offering home-based nursing care, the Enhanced Geriatric Outreach & Counseling Program helps to remove the very common barrier to care that comes when a senior is faced with a psychiatrist visit,” notes Kathy Mickel. “First and foremost, as an Advanced Practice Nurse, I evaluate, test, diagnose and treat mental illness. I also prescribe medications and help patients manage them.” She points out that since the stigma surrounding mental health care is still very prevalent among the elderly, staff members act as a support system for those in the program. Therapeutic interventions such as art therapy, cognitive therapy, problem solving, relaxation and reminiscence are clinically-proven foundations of the program. “The Enhanced Geriatric Outreach and Counseling Program underscores the mission of Trinitas to provide world-class psychiatric care to the people of our region with a special emphasis on those who are socio-economically disadvantaged,” Kathy sums up.

In addition to funding from the Grotta Fund for Senior Care, the Trinitas Enhanced Geriatric Outreach & Counseling Program also receives support from the Union County Department of Human Services. “Together, these agencies have made a tremendous difference in the lives of hundreds of seniors in our region as well as the families who love them,” concludes Nadine Brechner.


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