Behavioral health a priority in Beaufort County

Published 6:23 pm Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Behavioral Health Unit at Vidant Beaufort Hospital is working to put a new face on mental illness and the treatment involved.

Managed by Horizon Health, the fourth-floor hospital facility is lucky to have top-notch employees and programs, earning it the 2015 Program of the Year title out of more than 100 hospitals across the nation, according to Michael Bilbro, program director for behavioral health services.

A combination of in-tune staff, a variety of therapeutic opportunities and creative ideas for activities has vastly improved patient care, pushing the unit to the No. 1 spot, according to Bilbro, who also earned the distinction of 2015 Program Director of the Year.

Nikki Donald, a recreational therapist, said therapeutic activities include group sessions, recreational therapy, art projects, journaling, holiday activities and visits with social workers.

The staff is most proud of a 12-by-12-inch chalkboard for patients to express themselves, as well as a Cricut machine, which cuts out art designs. The facility also has an art project centered on two phones, where patients and staff created British-style red phone booths to go with them.

“It’s very cathartic for the patients to be able to express that way,” Bilbro said.

“We try to have hands-on activities that they can do,” Donald said. “It calms them down. They don’t even know you’re doing something therapeutic.”

The unit holds 19 beds, with patients staying an average of one week, and the staff hones in on each patient to see what works best for that person and to deescalate any potentially out-of-control situations, nurse Elizabeth Adams said.

However, behavioral nurse Ginger Moore said it’s important for people to know that a mental health unit is not the scary place one might see in the movies, but rather a safe place for regular people to heal.

Combatting this stigma is another factor that sets the facility apart.

“Our goal as staff is to let them know they’re not alone,” Moore said. When it’s appropriate, we’ll share our experiences. … People are ashamed, and they shouldn’t be ashamed.”

She said a big problem is that about one in five people is affected by mental illness, but only about two-thirds of those people ever receive treatment because of the stigma. Moore said people should think of it in terms of a person using a wheelchair — although mental illness is not as visible as that, it’s still just as real.

“You can’t see mental illness like you can other diseases, and there is a stigma associated with it,” she explained.

Bilbro said it is a tough job, but he is proud of how far the Behavioral Health Unit has come since Horizon came on board in 2004.

“Since then, we’ve created a busy inpatient program servicing not only Beaufort County, but many surrounding and tertiary counties, multiple outpatient offices in the east, a grant program funded in December by Kate B. Reynolds focusing on total care coordination of the severe and persistent mentally ill, and projects in the pipeline for growth,” he stated in a later email.

According to Donald, there’s a picture of a semicolon near the exit, and that symbolizes a big part of what the unit is about: the choice to end a sentence or keep going.

“You can choose to end it, or you can choose to keep going,” she said.

“We can probably impact more people than we realize,” Moore added. “Sometimes you don’t know how many.”

May is Mental Health Month. For more information about Behavioral Health Unit services, call 252-946-3666.