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Willow Brook Geropsychiatric Unit – Specialized Care for Seniors
By Kevin Brown

It is estimated that 20 percent of people age 55 years and older experience some type of mental health concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Further, according to the CDC, men age 85 years or older have quadruple the rate of suicide compared to other age groups.

These surprising statistics certainly point to a need for attention to the mental health of older adults. Ohio Valley Hospital (OVH), now part of Heritage Valley Health System, has addressed this need with the Willow Brook Geropsychiatric Unit, a 21-bed, short-term, acute inpatient psychiatric unit for adults age 55 and older.

“We’ve always nurtured a commitment to providing the community with a personalized approach to high quality health care,” says Lisa Dalena, RN, BSN, community relations coordinator for Willow Brook. “We saw a need to provide specialized care to this vulnerable population.”

Willow Brook opened in June 2011 and just celebrated its eighth anniversary. One of the few geriatric psychiatric units in Allegheny County, Lisa says that they get many referrals from surrounding counties due to the uniqueness and success of the program.

Being able to focus on the specific needs of older adults in one unit has its benefits. “Older adults have unique issues that differ from younger adults,” Lisa says. “Age brings on many challenges with decreased mental and physical capabilities along with the loss of loved ones and reduced independence,” Lisa says. “It can mean significant changes in the lives of seniors and sometimes specialized care is needed and that’s where we can help.”

Patients stay an average of 15 days in Willow Brook, depending on their mental health needs and response to treatment along with other medical conditions.

Services provided to patients on the Willow Brook unit include assessment and diagnosis, medication management, primary therapy, group and occupational therapy, rehabilitation support, group activities, case management, dietary consultation, and discharge planning.

Patients admitted to Willow Brook are assigned a medical doctor to follow along with their medical needs. They also have access to specialists such as neurologists, cardiologists, and gastroenterologists, among others. “We have a multidisciplinary team that offers comprehensive services specifically geared toward older adults,” Lisa explains. “Being located within the hospital allows us to offer integrated services which may include dialysis, occupational and physical therapy, consultations and continued collaboration with a multitude of specialists.”

Early identification and treatment of mental health issues is imperative. “We offer 24-hour assessment and referral services, as well as direct admissions from other hospitals,” Lisa notes.

Symptoms of mental health issues that are treated in the Willow Brook unit include delusions, psychoses, social withdrawal, anxiety and stress-related issues, acute and chronic depressive illness, and sudden or unexplained behavioral changes related to dementia.

Depression, a type of mood disorder, is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults, according to the CDC. Warning signs of depression include, among others, changes in sleep patterns, frequent mood swings such as agitation, crying, anxiety and anger, thoughts of suicide, sadness, and social isolation.

If you are a family member or a caregiver for an older adult and notice any of these symptoms of depression or other mental health issues, you should contact the Willow Brook unit at
(412) 777-6420.

“We do take calls 24/7 and patients can come to our emergency room for evaluation,” Lisa notes. “They will receive a thorough medical evaluation in our emergency room to be medically cleared first before a psychiatric nurse assesses the patient. That is so very important with older adults because there may be something else that is contributing to a change in mental status, mood or behavior that may be medically-based.”

After hospitalization, the Willow Brook staff ensures that patients receive the follow-up care they need. “We’ll send discharge summaries out to the primary care doctors with the patients’ permission because we realize that, working with the patient’s medical team goes hand-in-hand with keeping them at their highest level of independence and wellness after they’ve been discharged from the hospital,” Lisa says.

Patients may receive follow-up care at the OVH Outpatient Psychiatry Center which is located near the hospital. Resources available to patients at the outpatient center include Willow Brook’s medical director, Dr. Maher O. Ayyash, along with a doctor of nursing practice and licensed clinical social worker.

Willow Brook’s care for the community extends beyond the walls of the hospital. “Unit staff routinely interacts with the community to highlight the importance of taking care of your mental health as well as your physical health,” Lisa explains. “We are active in the Focus on Renewal Mental Health Partnership and are annual sponsors of the NAMI Walk (National Alliance of Mental Illness).”
“The hospital’s ongoing efforts to incorporate mental health promotion into chronic disease prevention are visible in our collaboration with our medical team, school of nursing, diabetes education program, work with local EMS and presentations to senior-related groups,” she says.

“We have a great team here, from the unit staff and leadership, to social workers, dietitians and other ancillary staff – we couldn’t do this without the whole team,” Lisa says.

For more information about the Willow Brook Geropsychiatric Unit, call (412) 777-6420, or visit the OVH website at www.ohiovalleyhospital.org/services/willow-brook-geropsychiatric-unit.

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