Bridging the mental health gap

Partial hospitalization program coming to New Ulm Medical Center

Members of of NUMC’s new Parital Hospitalization Program (PHP) discuss mental health needs during an open house, Friday. L to R: Mental Health Therapist Duane Winter, Mental Health Manager, Mary Shupe, RN Amy Welch and Program Assistant Pete Schletz.

NEW ULM — A new mental health Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) is coming to New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) to bridge the gap between in-patient and out-patient treatment.

Before this program started, NUMC had only two options for mental health treatment. The out-patient option had patients visit the clinic for brief treatments and the return home. The other option was to be admitted to the hospital as an in-patient and remain at the medical center throughout the treatment process.

Program manager Mary Shupe said with the PHP, Allina Health was hoping to fill the gap with the two extreme options. PHP offers a middle ground. Instead of being admitted to the hospital 24/7, the patient comes to the hospital on a day program. Mental health patients come to NUMC for six hours a day, five days a week for three weeks.

“The idea is to stabilize a person who is coming out of in-patient treatment or prevent someone from needing in-patient treatment,” said Mental Health Therapist Duane Winter.

The idea is to allow mental health in-patients to take a small step down from round-the-clock coverage. PHP would also meet in a group session with at most eight patients.

Statewide, the healthcare systems are facing a mental health crisis. Many medical facilities are seeing a shortage of space for long-term mental health care.

NUMC has 10 in-patient mental health beds available. These beds frequently are full. If there are no mental health beds, they might end up in the emergency room or transfered out of the community.

Program assistant Pete Schletz said he knows of patients traveling to Mankato every day for partial hospitalization treatment because there were limited option in rural areas.

“This is a need here,” Schletz said.

PHP will alleviate the pressure on the hospital by reducing the number of patients needing long-term treatment.

Winter said partial hospitalization could help stop the cycle of in-patients going in and out of treatment. If a bipolar patient is manic, this could be followed by a crash down to depression and returning them to the hospital. With this program, the cycle could be broken.

With the PHP group therapy, patients can process their emotions by talking. It also is a source of education. Many patients need help with evaluating medication.

Winter said many of the mental health patients they see have anxiety; especially after the COVID pandemic.

“There are so many who are worried to go back to work,” he said. “And anxiety often goes hand in hand with depression.”

Winter believes the partial hospitalization approach is a great opportunity for patients to ease out of treatment. He said patients spend most of the day in treatment but spend the night at home. The next day they come back and talk about how they managed the night. What worked? What do they need help with?

“It is a better way to manage emotions,” Winter said.

NUMC is also planning to start an “intensive out-patient program” (IOP). This program would meet for three hours, three times a week for three months. This would be another step down from the three-week PHP program. The IOP program is currently on hold until another therapist is hired.

Other goals of these programs are to make it easier to seek mental health care and de-stigmatize mental health care.

Amy Welsch, an RN with the PHP program said thinks nothing about coming to the hospital for physical pain but hesitates for mental pain.

PHP assistant Pete Schletz said mental health stigma is still a problem; especially in rural communities. Farmers struggle with mental health, but many are unwilling to take action because of the time commitment.

Schletz is optimistic the stigma surrounding mental health will diminish but said will take time and education.

“That’s what we are trying to do here,” he said.


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