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RMC senior program, director capture national attention

One of the most common illnesses among the elderly is anxiety, but the culture of this self-sufficient generation oftentimes is to minimize problems and not complain.

Subtle symptoms go undetected by family members, and the problem grows until it is out of control before it is recognized. To help families down this difficult road, Rankin Medical Center (RMC) founded its Senior Care Program in 1996 for people aged 60 and over. The hospital saw this as an underserved population with problems that were unique and needs that could not be fully met in any other setting. The program is an inpatient stay to treat a vast array of emotional and mental illnesses that plague the elderly population, depression included.

“Many of our patients present us with circumstances that seem insurmountable,” said Christopher Cothern, LPC, LMFT, director of RMC’s Senior Care Program. “We look at each issue and break down those issues in a manner that makes them manageable. Our primary objective is to improve the quality of life of the people we come in contact with.”

Accepting assistance for some is very hard, and this presents a struggle within families, said Cothern. But, if the elderly person tries to live independently beyond what they can reasonably handle, they are at risk of de-compensating at a quicker rate both physically and emotionally than someone who accepts assistance as it is needed.

“When assistance is available and accepted, the quality of life for both the individual and family members is significantly improved,” he said.

RMC’s Senior Care Program recently captured national attention from Horizon Health. RMC won a national award for Best Practice Clinical Innovation for its Snap Shot *411, a program created in 2004 at RMC to monitor patients’ progress while they are in treatment.

Patients are assessed in six areas: cognitive, mood and affect, communication, social interaction, psychotic behaviors, activities of daily living and mobility. They are rated from one to four, with one being the best. Their progress is reassessed during their stay and again at discharge.

Snap Shot has also led to the use of weekly progress reports given to each patient and family members which identify goals, progress, interventions and medications and rational for medication use. Patients and family members praise these tools, said Cothern.

“Both patients and families love the progress reports given,” he said. “It gives them evidence of progress and keeps everyone well informed. Many of our families comment as to the effectiveness of having each medication listed and ease in understanding the rational for its use.”

Although initially piloted at RMC, Snap Shot *411 has been issued to other units throughout the U.S.

National attention

Horizon also recognized Dr. Marshall Belaga as a national finalist for Psychiatrist of the Year. Belaga is a psychiatrist in private practice in Brandon and the medical director of the Senior Care Program.

Upon his arrival, Belaga expressed his passion for the geriatric population. Under his care, the Senior Care Program has flourished, with a 23% increase in productivity in the past two years. Belaga has played a strong role in RMC’s Psychiatric Needs Taskforce, identifying service needs, product lines, feasibility studies and strategic planning to meet identified needs. Current items on the agenda include expansion of the inpatient unit by 45%, operating a two-tract program, renovation of the current physical plant and outpatient and ECT service.

Belaga is a faculty member at University of Mississippi Medical Center, where psychiatric residents complete a geriatric psychiatric rotation under his supervision and observe his interaction with patients and their families. Belaga serves on the Rankin County Chamber of Commerce’s Elder Services Committee and is working to establish Brandon as an elder-friendly community.

He believes he must be prepared to meet the needs of this ever-growing population, and that’s why staying current with practices and techniques is vital.

“We must have a firm knowledge of our past, work in the present with our eye on the future,” he said. “With advancements in medication, treatment and diagnostic procedures we have the potential to significantly impact the diseases currently plaguing our elderly population thus vastly improving the quality of lives of our patients. We must be on top of our game or we will miss our opportunity to serve, and isn’t that what this is all about?”

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.


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