May 21, 2019

May is Mental Health Awareness Month


Did you know that over 40-million Americans are living with a mental illness? According to the US government statistics, half of all mental disorders begin by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24, yet just over 40 percent of the people who had a mental disorder in the past year actually got professional help.

“Reducing the stigma associated with mental illness begins with recognizing that treating illnesses of the mind is not that much different than treating an illness in the body,” says Lisa Roos, nurse manager of Guthrie Cortland Medical Center’s adult inpatient behavioral health unit. “There are many effective medications and treatments when proper help is obtained.”

For some people who are struggling, the best help may be a brief stay in the hospital. “Our goal in the Guthrie Cortland behavioral health unit is to stabilize individuals until they can safely return to their lives in the community,” Roos says. “We treat a variety of issues including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other related problems. We also arrange services, ensure appropriate housing is in place, and schedule follow-up outpatient treatment before patient discharge.”

Some of the biggest challenges facing Guthrie Cortland’s mental health team every day include the skyrocketing demand for services and the hospital’s aging facilities. Although many important upgrades have been made over the years to ensure patient safety, the inpatient unit is located in a 100-year-old section of the building and lacks the privacy and clinical efficiency of a more modern space.

That’s why Roos and her colleagues are thrilled that New York State recently awarded Guthrie Cortland a $4.65 million health transformation grant to renovate the hospital’s emergency department and adult inpatient behavioral health unit, also known as 1 East. The grant is good for five years, and requires the hospital to pay upfront for any renovations before it is reimbursed by the state, says Denise Wrinn, Guthrie Cortland’s chief financial officer.

One of the most critical needs on 1 East is more private patient space. “In the behavioral health unit we currently have 11 beds, but just 2 private rooms,” Wrinn says. “Once these renovations are complete, we’ll be able to offer private rooms, expanded clinical programming, more efficient patient flow, and other enhancements to the services and care we give our patients.” Maximizing natural daylight on the unit and improving access to an outdoor courtyard where patients can safely go outside during their stay are also on the wish list.

Plans for the emergency department (ED) include creating a dedicated mental health exam suite with enhanced privacy and safety features. Because the ED often holds minors awaiting transfer to a pediatric mental health facility, making the space more family-friendly is also a priority. “The new suite in the ED will provide a quieter space for anyone in crisis while giving our team a specialized area to offer the best possible care in the safest possible environment to meet their needs,” Roos says.

Guthrie Cortland behavioral health specialists work closely with many other social service and community health organizations throughout Cortland County. They answer the Cortland County Crisis Line (607-756-3771) and make referrals to the Liberty Resources’ Mobile Crisis Team when appropriate. They may also arrange for the person in crisis to be brought to the ED at Guthrie Cortland for evaluation. Patients seen in the ED are assessed for safety and level of care needed, and based on their needs, may be referred for outpatient treatment or admitted to the hospital for further stabilization. Guthrie Cortland is also involved in Cortland County’s Suicide Prevention Coalition.

Roos says, “Receiving this grant from NY State shows both patients and caregivers the value we are placing on mental health and on safe recovery for members of our local community. We serve a population that often feels forgotten. This shows them that mental health is an area of caregiving worth investing in, and it increases morale for our caregivers, too.”

If you or anyone you know suffers from suicidal thoughts, please seek immediate help. Call the Cortland County Crisis Line at 607-756-3771 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or

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