New program for senior citizens targets the mind and the body

Technically, the staff of the Heritage Program for Senior Adults takes care of older adults who suffer from psychiatric, emotional or behavioral disorders. In layman’s terms, they help older members of the community return to a normal and productive way of life. A program that is a mere seven months old in McCulloch County, the Heritage Program is an avenue individuals, family members or doctors can use to help an older person recover from any of a number of emotional or behavioral disorders. The actual facility is not located in the hospital, but it is directly across the street. Not in the immediate proximity, however, has not separated this program from the close ties it has with the hospital and its staff. From serving the noon meal from the hospital’s cafeteria to receiving necessary medical consultations, the two facilities act as one cohesive unit. The program is a voluntary outpatient mental health program that uses a variety of medical practices including but not limited to group, family and individual therapy, medication education, stress management and exercise. Whether someone is bound to a nursing home or if they can get around fine on their own, the Heritage Program is designed to fit the needs of whomever is interested. The staff of Mental Health Technicians (MHT) and Licensed Masters Social Workers (LMSW) at the Heritage Program have one goal in mind’treat each person as an individual and do whatever that person needs to reach their own personal goal. “Sometimes older people just need somebody to lean on,” said Kym Fowler, a social worker with Heritage. “We are here to help people reconnect with the world.” The Heritage Program is a completely voluntary patient program that staff members say can help any person, 55 years or older, with learning to overcome a number of problems. Physical and psychological conditions attributed to grief, stress, anxiety, depression or any number of reasons all have the potential to be equally debilitating. The Heritage Program focuses on giving each individual a chance to receive assistance, no matter what level they may need. Designed around group sessions that meet Monday through Friday for a few hours each day, social interaction and personal attention are the goals of the Heritage organizers. Managed by Heritage Health Services, a group covering several other hospitals around the state, the Heart of Texas Memorial Hospital program derives much of its specialized knowledge from the management group. The program is managed by psychiatrists, medical doctors, psychotherapists and highly specialized personnel. From that knowledge base, program manager Suzanne Gann, LMSW, and local program psychiatrist, Jim Mercer, MD, treat individual patients. “We can’t stress how important the benefits of this program are and can be for this age group in this community,” said Gann. “We want people to realize that this program is available to anyone who thinks they may need it. If anyone in the age group even wonders if we might be able to help them, then they should simply give us a call. If we can’t help them, we will do our best to point them in the right direction and get them to someone who can.” From the initial contact with patients to eventual discharge from the program, each person is treated and regarded as a unique individual. “Treating each person like they are someone is the key to success in this program,” said Linda Alastuey, RN, a program nurse with Heritage. “This is a program that is primarily group-oriented unless otherwise specified by a doctor. Most of the sessions are small group sessions and they meet every day.” With only seven months under their belt, the staff at the Heritage Program is already seeing the fruits of their labors. With each successive patient that is discharged from the program, the staff is reassured that every effort was worth the while.

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