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Geriatric Psychiatry in Westerly: A need addressed, a community served

Members of the Geriatric Psychiatry team at Westerly Hospital
For as long as professional healthcare services have existed in the Westerly region, there has never been a dedicated facility designed to provide inpatient care for older patients with psychiatric and behavioral health issues. Until now.

A Geriatric Psychiatric unit – a fully renovated space with a dedicated staff of psychiatrists, specialized nurses and support staff – is treating patients at Westerly Hospital.

Everyone on the unit is committed to the mission of helping older people who are struggling with behavioral issues caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, mood disorders and/or substance use.

“We saw a community that was underserved, and we saw the opportunity to meet this need,” explained Peter Morgan, MD, a psychiatrist and medical director of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health for Westerly Hospital and L+M Hospital in New London. “All the psychiatric inpatient care in Rhode Island – until now – was based in the Providence area.”

The new Geriatric Psychiatric unit continues a commitment made in 2016 when Westerly Hospital became part of Yale New Haven Health System.

Medical and operations staff from the hospital, Yale Medicine and Northeast Medical Group work collaboratively to expand services, and the health system provides support to upgrade facilities and technologies.

“The population of young people in Westerly is not really growing, but the 55-and-over population in Westerly is growing,” Dr. Morgan said. “That was a key factor in developing this unit.”

The inpatient unit was prioritized to address that need, and outpatient psychiatric services are planned for the future, said Dr. Morgan.

What is geriatric psychiatry? It involves a special ability to synthesize the older patients’ medical and psychiatric needs and provide appropriate evidence-based pharmacological and nonpharmacological management, according to members of the team.

Board members, physicians, leadership and staff celebrate the official ribbon cutting for the new inpatient Geriatric Psychiatric unit.

In practice, “We’ll see more patients with dementia, so that influences the type of group therapy that is offered,” Dr. Morgan said. “Part of recovery is that patients feel safe, calm and relaxed, and that’s best served when you are with patients who are in relatively similar situations.”

The average length of stay on the unit is expected to be about two weeks, although some patients will be there longer, some less than that. Primarily for those over 55, the average age is likely to be about 70, Dr. Morgan estimated.

The new unit has eight double rooms and two private rooms for a total of 18 beds. There are dedicated areas for visitations, a separate dining area, a community room, a group room, a sensory room and a quiet lounge, according to Kelli Irons, RN, director of Psychiatric Services for Westerly and L+M hospitals.

“We’re very excited to be offering this unit to the community,” Irons said. “It was planned and thought out and designed in a way to benefit patients and families.”

A physician already well established in the community, Luisa Skoble, MD, a board-certified geriatric psychiatrist with 27 years of experience, has also joined the new team.

Dr. Morgan called it exciting to be part of something new – but not for the sake of newness; rather, for the sake of need.

“When we were reviewed by the Rhode Island Department of Health Advisory Board, every member of that board wanted to go on record as seconding the motion to approve this unit,” he said. “I believe those officials really understood that this unit and our team have the potential to have a positive impact on lives and families in the Westerly area.”