Karen Garloch

Residential center offers new services for Charlotte area mental health patients

Carpenters and decorators are putting the final touches on a renovated south Charlotte complex that is now called HopeWay, a residential and day treatment center for adults with mental illness.

When the center accepts its first patients, probably in November, it will be the realization of a dream by founders Bill and Betsy Blue, who became frustrated when they couldn’t find appropriate care in Charlotte for a family member who had a mental health crisis in 2011.

Since then, through the nonprofit HopeWay Foundation, they have raised $27 million in donations, and also borrowed $7.6 million, to renovate the 12-acre campus that was once home to Amethyst substance abuse treatment center.

Organizers have scheduled an invitation-only grand opening for Wednesday. Operations will build slowly, with full occupancy expected in late 2017.

HopeWay officials say it’s the only Charlotte-area residential and day treatment option for adults with mental illness, leaving many patients to travel to other cities for care. Even as residential treatment centers for substance abuse (such as the Betty Ford Center in California) have become prevalent, there remain fewer options nationally for residential treatment for mental and behavioral health problems.

Blue recently led a tour, accompanied by the center’s top two administrators, CEO and chief medical officer Dr. Alyson Kuroski-Mazzei and chief clinical officer Tom Gettelman.

They started in the lobby, which features 11 cases displaying blown glass – vases, bowls and goblets – created by North Carolina artist Kenny Pieper.

Throughout the center, colors were chosen with care, Blue said. Warm shades of blue, green and yellow were used in therapy areas, brighter colors in the dining room, and soothing tones of white, beige and gray prevail in the living quarters, where most rooms have views of the woods.

Financial aid offered

The 52,000-square-foot building was gutted to create private and communal spaces with ample natural light. One section includes 36 single-occupancy rooms, each with a private bath, for patients who will stay overnight, typically for 30 to 45 days. After those stays, they can get another 30 days of outpatient treatment for five days a week. That would typically be followed by 45 days of outpatient treatment for three days a week.

Patients may come to HopeWay from hospitals or by referral from psychiatrists or families, said Kuroski-Mazzei, who most recently worked in southern California but got her psychiatry training at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill.

Only 41 percent of U.S. adults with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year, according to advocates. A shortage of psychiatrists means services are difficult to get. In Mecklenburg County, psychiatrists met only 39 percent of the need in 2012, according to one study. That compares with Wake County, which served 96 percent of the need that year.

At HopeWay, the most common diagnoses treated will be mood and anxiety disorders, major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, Kuroski-Mazzei said. Patients with violent tendencies will be referred for treatment elsewhere.

From admission to discharge, HopeWay patients will work with the same therapists and care team members, said Gettelman, a psychologist who most recently worked at Carolinas HealthCare System’s behavioral health hospital in Davidson.

The Davidson hospital and HopeWay serve different levels of behavioral health needs, Gettelman said. As an inpatient psychiatric hospital, Davidson treats individuals who are acutely ill, and some may be admitted involuntarily to locked units. After treatment at Davidson, they may be admitted to HopeWay for “step-down treatment” in the residential or day programs. No one at HopeWay will be treated involuntarily.

HopeWay’s staff will total 57, including three to four psychiatrists, 13 therapists, a primary care physician, a nurse practitioner and multiple nurses.

HopeWay will accept private insurance and has created a $5 million endowment to provide scholarships to help pay for treatment. Officials acknowledge that patients without insurance or who can’t pay out-of-pocket may not be able to afford treatment there. But they noted that more people have insurance today because of the Affordable Care Act, which requires parity in coverage for mental and physicial illness.

‘Not a locked unit’

HopeWay’s residential section includes reading nooks and a lounge with a pool table and television, where friends and family can visit.

One side of the building is dedicated to therapy, including an art studio, complete with a kiln, where residents can make pottery or design jewelry. All therapy rooms have huge windows with views of trees that shade the property along Sharon Road West.

That section also includes a “Learning Kitchen,” where a nutritionist will teach patients to prepare healthy foods. “The goal is independent living,” Kuroski-Mazzei said. “We want people out in the community taking care of themselves...…so they’re not eating popcorn every night or cereal.”

Blue, a retired investment banker with Wells Fargo, said he and his wife got the idea for HopeWay after visiting Skyland Trail, a residential behavioral health center in Atlanta, and others across the country. They wanted to increase access to mental health care in Charlotte “so families no longer have to send their loved ones away to distant cities to receive the continuous care they need,” Blue said.

Watching the Charlotte center “come alive” can bring Blue’s emotions to the surface. During the tour, he choked up while showing visitors a smooth blue stone he has carried in his pocket for two years. It bears the word “Hope.”

He explained: “That’s what this is all about.”

Karen Garloch: 704-358-5078, @kgarloch

About HopeWay

▪ Residential and day treatment center for adults with mental illness

▪ 1717 Sharon Road West, Charlotte

▪ 704-930-0130, www.hopewayfoundation.org