WAMH looks to expand facilities, programs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 18, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &8212; Pending an announcement next week, West Alabama Mental Health is in line for a pilot program from Bristol-Myers Squibb to improve psychiatric care in the region.

The pilot program, according to Executive Director Kelley Parris-Barnes, would allow them to build their behavioral services capacity from its current level. This new program, however, is just one of the programs they hope to add to their roster of comprehensive care, she said.

On average, West Alabama Mental Health serves 1,900 clients each month, with 800 of those being adult mentally ill, Barnes said. Some of their consumers come for counseling, some for primary care needs and others live on a semi-permanent basis at their residential facility, the Springhill home.

Many of their clients attend day programs to learn life skills, which are currently housed in a single room in the West Alabama Mental Health building on Walnut Street.

In the near future, however, the day programs will be housed in a newly purchased building on U.S. Highway 80. The new building, once it is renovated, will be named the Lloyd Matthew Watkins Life Skills Center, named for three ardent supporters of mental health services, Barnes said.

One of the main goals of the programs they offer is to eventually get their clients &045; who are either mentally ill, mentally retarded, or substance abusers &045; at a recovery stage so they can become integrated into the community.

One of their more successful programs is Milestones, which puts people to work at jobs in the community, which Barnes said is an essential part of the recovery process. The program currently has 12 individuals at work from the previous year, and 12 more are expected to join the workforce this year.

The program has been successful, Barnes said, because of their partners: Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut, St. Leo&8217;s Catholic Church, EconoLodge and Newell Paper Company.

Although some of their programs are expanding, some of them are scaling back.

Due to lack of referrals, the child and adolescent care services program is no longer being offered in consumers&8217; homes. Instead, Barnes said, they are transitioning into an outpatient plan to provide for these needs.

Barnes said they are also always in need of trained professionals such as Licensed Practical Nurses and Registered Nurses to facilitate in their everyday operations.

In order to address some of these professional needs, Barnes has been working with two professors at the University of Alabama, Dr. John Wheat and Dr. Thad Ulzen, to establish a vdual residency program for primary and psychiatric care through their College of Community Health Sciences Rural Health Program.

The plans now are to have such a residency program set up by 2009.