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Phoebe holds open house for behavioral health unit

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- After struggling with a physician shortage that prompted Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to effectively shut down its behavioral health services, the hospital has begun to see a rebirth.

Officials held an open house Tuesday for Unit 3 East, which will be offering services to patients ages 18 and older.

"We will be able to offer the wrap-around services we have not been able to offer," said Jerri Meier, interim executive director for the behavioral health department. "It will provide the continuity of care we have been missing."

The unit has 23 beds. Unit 4 East, which focuses on senior behavioral health, opened Feb. 16. It has 15 beds.

"All we need now is patients in the beds (in Unit 3 East)," Meier said. "We are very pleased with the psychiatrists and with the unit."

Over the last few months, the department has gone from having one full-time physician to three. The units underwent renovations to install features to help with patient safety such as enclosed plumbing, break-resistant windows and hang-proof doors.

"This is a long time coming," said Bob LaGesse, senior vice president of physician practices. "We have made some changes over the last few months, and some were hard."

Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick said that temporarily closing the units was the best thing in the long run for the patient base because it ensured the physician shortage would not cause anything to slip through the cracks.

"It was a hard decision to make, but it was the right one," he said. "Facilities don't take care of people, people take care of people."

Dr. Wanda Gobin was the sole physician on staff until the two others joined her last year. Despite the hardships, she said she is proud to be in the field she is in.

"I like psychiatry," she said. "The busier I am, the better I feel."

The impact of the hospital's behavioral health department has reached people on a personal level, including NAMI Albany Chapter President Alan White -- whose daughter is bipolar.

"For years and years, she cycled through Phoebe," he recalled. "For some time, I just had the horrible memories of her being here. Looking back on it, I don't know what we would have done without (the behavioral health department). All the folks have been so helpful."