Long Beach Mental Health Professionals, Advocates Help Link People In Need To Care

By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer

March 12, 2013 - Although the number of people who experience a mental health problem in a given year is staggering – one in four adults, or approximately 57.7 million Americans, according to the national Institute of Mental Health – local mental health professionals and advocates say Long Beach is fortunate to have a wealth of options to link people in need to care.

The annual economic, indirect cost of mental illness in the United States is estimated at $79 billion, most of which reflects productivity losses, according to Fred E. Magenheimer, president of the Long Beach area chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI LBA).



Community Hospital Long Beach is the only hospital among the MemorialCare Health
System’s six hospitals with an inpatient behavioral health services component,
according to Community Hospital Long Beach Administrator Krikor Jansezian, Ph.D.,
seen here with Hopey Witherby, the hospital’s director of behavioral health
services. The hospital offered a behavioral health inpatient program before
MemorialCare purchased the hospital in 2011. Jansezian has been working with
Witherby over the past 11 months on expanding behavioral health services to have
multiple levels of care, including outpatient services with multiple tracks and
a clinic for brief appointments.
(Photograph by the Business Journal’s Thomas McConville)

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“Increasing knowledge about mental illness and its symptoms and treatments can significantly reduce the time lost at work because of mental illness,” Magenheimer said in an e-mail. “Increased reduction of stigma will show that those with a mental illness can be fully productive employees, thereby improving business.”

NAMI LBA’s founding organization, the Long Beach Alliance for the Mentally Ill, has been around for more than 30 years; it became part of the national organization in the 1990s, Magenheimer said. The grassroots organization, whose primary goal is to support, educate and advocate, started with a group of people looking to support each other in dealing with having a loved one suffer mental illness. Today, NAMI LBA is one of many organizations in Long Beach that offers programs for individuals in need and their friends, parents and families.

One of the most well known mental health organizations in Long Beach is Mental Health America of Los Angeles County (MHA LA), a division of the national organization that promotes mental health recovery and through its programs, partnerships and public education in addition to treatment of illnesses such as schizophrenia (marked by auditory hallucinations and paranoia), manic-depressive (commonly referred to as bipolar disorder) illness or depression and substance abuse problems. MHA LA is headquartered in Long Beach and offers transition-age youth programs, homeless assistance, wellness centers and housing options.

“We’ve constructed this narrative around mental illness being this deficit, and we haven’t had a real one constructed around mental wellness,” Chad Costello, director of public policy for MHA LA, told the Business Journal.

“Wellness is not the absence of illness; it’s the presence of something else.”

MHA LA programs include the nationally recognized MHA Village, an adult recovery program focused on four steps: hope, empowerment, self-responsibility and meaningful roles in life. “The things we try to construct at the Village is how we help develop skills to be able to navigate tough times, manage your life and how we can get you hanging around more people who are supportive in the right way to you,” Costello said. “That is the best way to help you navigate whatever you face in life, whether it is health-related or not.”

Paul Barry, executive director of the MHA Village, made employment a priority for every member of the program. He helped establish businesses that employ MHA Village participants, including the MHA Village Cookie Shoppe. The business sells a variety of cookies, from peanut butter to oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip and cranberry white chocolate, as well as brownies.

“Mrs. Field’s has nothing on them,” Krikor Jansezian, Ph.D., administrator for Community Hospital Long Beach, said of the MHA Village Cookie Shoppe’s baked goods. Jansezian has served as Community Hospital’s administrator for nearly two years and said he told the Business Journal he is thrilled to have the hospital’s parent company, MemorialCare Health System, investing in the hospital’s behavioral health services.

Community Hospital is the only campus of MemorialCare’s six Southern California hospitals with behavioral health acute inpatient care, Jansezian said. Since acquiring Community Hospital in 2011, MemorialCare has been exploring opportunities to create additional behavioral services in the communities it serves. Miller Children’s Hospital has called upon Jansezian and Hopey Witherby, director of behavioral health services at Community Hospital, to develop programs for children. MemorialCare-owned hospitals in Laguna and San Clemente are also interested in expanding behavioral health services, Jansezian said.

“I get chills just thinking about it,” he said. “This is the way health systems should be thinking because you are supposed to be taking care of the whole person. Not just the broken leg or the desirable NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) patient because it has such great reimbursement. We want to take care of every angle, even if it is not a money maker.”

For the past 10 years, Community Hospital Long Beach has operated a behavioral health unit with an inpatient program, offering a range of psychiatric services for individuals suffering acute psychological and emotional problems. The unit is currently equipped with 28 beds designated for acute adult behavioral health inpatients. Most of the patients who are admitted for inpatient care come through the hospital’s emergency department, where a clinician evaluates their needs, Jansezian said.

“If they don’t need our inpatient level of care, we can send them somewhere else that is a better fit,” he said. “We believe there is a big population out there that never has to see the inside of an inpatient unit. You don’t want to go there. If you can prevent a patient from ever being an inpatient, that is our goal.”

Therapy modalities offered at Community Hospital range from dance and music therapy, life skills training and education to psychiatric treatments like trans-cranial magnetic stimulation.

“I always say that there is always a time in everyone’s life when there’s mental unhealthiness,” Witherby said. “No one ever goes through life without being stressed or without having situations that [cause] stress and discomfort. It is just not realistic that you have a perfect life where nothing ever goes wrong.”

When Witherby was brought in to work with Jansezian about 11 months ago, the first thing they wanted to do was create levels of care and outpatient services tracks for specific patients – for mothers and mothers-to-be, adolescents, geriatric services and more. These services are offered as long-term programs of six to eight weeks or as short-term sessions through the hospital’s clinic, which will add to the many mental health services available to the Long Beach community. The grand opening of the outpatient behavioral health clinic is expected this spring.

“The clinic piece will help those unfunded, or lower funded, and the Medi-Cal population to also have a place to go immediately in our zip codes,” Jansezian said. “We are not trying to compete with Long Beach Mental Health. We can’t take care of that many patients. But when we get these patients, we want to be able to say, ‘You don’t have to go five miles away to get these services. You can come back here and we can help you. Better yet, the same doctor can treat you, we know the medications you are on and we know your history. We can help you maintain your stability while you continue with school, work, family, life.’”

Long Beach Mental Health is a clinic funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. The City of Long Beach’s mental health officer, Patti LaPlace, works with a representative from the county to provide mental health assessments and linkages to mental health resources, she told the Business Journal. LaPlace works with the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services in the bureau of community health.

“We are really fortunate in the city to have this position,” LaPlace said of her job. It was a brand new position when she was hired in December 2008. LaPlace has 30 years of experience as a program director for inpatient and outpatient mental health programs prior to her work with the city.

“Our mission in the City of Long Beach is not only to improve people’s quality of life but also to be able to improve access to the treatment they need,” LaPlace said. “That obviously includes mental health. We like to work with many of our community partners, such as Community Hospital Long Beach and Mental Health America, to try to coordinate the best route that people can take to be able to access mental health services. . . . We are pretty fortunate in Long Beach that we have a lot of options to better link people to care.”