The Senior Life Solutions Mental Health Center opened October 1, 2017, and is located adjacent to Community Hospital-Fairfax in Fairfax, Missouri. (Mound City News Photo)

The Senior Life Solutions Mental Health Center has two group meeting rooms and additional offices for therapists. (Mound City News Photo)

By Dennis Sharkey, Editor, Mound City News
A mental health outpatient program at Community Hospital-Fairfax has become so utilized a new facility has been built to help the program expand.
Senior Life Solutions is an intense outpatient program dedicated to addressing emotional and behavioral health of adult seniors according to program director, Gail Heitman. The program features three day a week group counseling sessions along with individual sessions with a therapist. Each group has a maximum of 10 patients and is currently full. The program therapist is Sarah Watkins, LPC; and Karia Browning, CNA, and Julie Koop, CNA, are the office patient coordinators.
A community assessment survey in 2015 showed patrons of Community Hospital-Fairfax thought there was a need for mental health services for seniors with the answers they returned. The hospital conducts the community survey every three years and is in the process of preparing for the next survey. Heitman said as soon as the results were returned the program got started quickly and opened in January 2016.
“This was actually a direct answer to that needs assessment,” Heitman said. “This is really a gift to the community for these folks to be able to come to this program.”
Heitman said the program quickly outgrew the small two room setup within the walls of the main hospital which led to the new center construction this summer and the opening of the building last month. Although only one group is currently meeting, the new center has an additional meeting room and other offices for additional therapists. Heitman said they hope to add another group soon.
“We want to help as many people as possible and we need to expand to do that,” Heitman said.
The group that currently meets didn’t all start together. Heitman said the group started out with a few patients and built up to the maximum of 10. When a member graduates the program and leaves they are replaced in the group by a new member.
“As one graduates we bring a new one in,” Heitman said. “It’s really interesting to see how that works.”
Patients are admitted to the program by psychiatrist, Dr. James Fleming, with each program tailored to the needs of the patient. Some patients require more group therapy and each is guaranteed at least one individual meeting with a therapist each month.
Each patient is also treated with a comprehensive healthcare approach. Heitman said at each visit the patient has their vital signs checked and the patient’s primary care doctor is communicated with.
“We definitely want to collaborate with them,” Heitman said about keeping the primary care doctor involved.
Heitman said in the nearly two years the program has been in existence, she has seen proof the community assessment survey results were correct in determining a need for the program. Many seniors suffer from symptoms of depression and anxiety often related to aging which can include coping with loss, decreased energy, life transitions, loneliness and sadness.
“Because of life’s circumstances we see people who have absolutely wilted,” Heitman said. “Before they leave our program they are really blooming again. Oftentimes in life what we had planned didn’t work out.”
Heitman said many times a new patient will come into the program with a skeptical outlook and doesn’t really think they need the program. After some time in the program most realize they are benefitting from the therapy. For all patients the group therapy is not only a place they go to seek healing but also a place to go and be a healer.
“They not only receive from the group but they give,” Heitman said. “They are a part of somebody else’s solution and they know that. That’s part of the healing process.”