Consider how much has changed since 1995. Then, cell phones were big and cumbersome, we listened to music on CDs, and mentioning the term “social media” would’ve likely earned you some funny looks – and those are just the technological changes. No matter how you look at it, it truly was a different time. While there have been countless changes in the years since then, some things have remained constant. Blount Memorial’s Emotional Health & Recovery Center is one of them. For the last two decades, the center has been a place of hope for those struggling with addiction and mental health problems. Yet, just one year earlier, the center was undergoing some fundamental changes of its own.
“The behavioral health world was changing in the mid-90s,” said Emotional Health & Recovery Center director Anna Shugart, who has spent almost three decades with Blount Memorial. “In 1994, I wrote a proposal that we combine what was then the Emotional Health Center with Mountain View Recovery Center. Until that point, we had operated as completely separate programs and even were stationed on different floors of the hospital. We did some referrals back and forth, but not many. People who came in were identified as either chemically dependent or as having a mental health problem,” she explained. “For me, it was a natural progression to look at integrating the programs and treating a person who has addiction problems the same way you treat a person who has mental health problems because, for many people, they’re intertwined anyway,” she added.
During the 1980s, Blount Memorial Senior Services coordinator Edward Harper was pulling double duty as a social worker working on the hospital’s first mental health unit helping both addiction patients and mental health patients. “At 10 a.m., I was running a group for emotional health, and at 2 p.m., I was running a group for substance abuse,” he said. “There was a treatment philosophy rift in the late 1980s. People thought you could only treat addiction patients one way, and you could only treat mental health patients one way. Of course, there are specialized treatments in any diagnosis, but there also are commonalities,” he explained.
Those commonalities led to an integration of Mountain View Recovery Center and the Emotional Health Center, creating what has since been known as the Blount Memorial Emotional Health & Recovery Center. But, that paradigm shift that came with its own set of hurdles. “It was a very challenging transition,” Shugart said. “The biggest was getting people on board with the whole-person philosophy. Integrating the programs makes a lot of sense now, but at the time, we were one of the first programs in the area to approach treating multiple diagnoses together in one treatment program,” she said.
“As with any organizational changes, you just have to realize that you’re going to have to evolve,” Harper said. “This hospital has always been an evolver. We’ve always tried to anticipate and adapt to the community’s needs. We’ll get out there and be cutting edge because we know what needs to be done,” he added.
While some support groups and specialized programs have come and gone in the time since the integration, what has remained is the center’s mission of providing hope for those in crisis. Shugart says the number of people the center has helped in the last 20 years is in the tens of thousands.
“People don’t pay much attention to their behavioral health needs until there’s a crisis,” Shugart said. “We go to our doctor for a physical and medical checkup every year just to make sure we’re okay. No one goes to a psychiatrist or mental health professional every year for a ‘checkup.’ So, what happens is that when you do come in, you’re in crisis. A lot of times, people are scared to death when they first come here because they’re expecting to see bars on the windows and everyone in straightjackets. It’s very scary to them. They come here and find out that there’s a tremendously caring group of staff members who are compassionate and respectful, and provide treatments to help them. Many times when people fill out their evaluations, they write ‘This saved my life. This is the best thing that ever happened to me,’” she said. “That’s what keeps you coming back to work. It makes you feel like you did the right thing and are doing the right thing,” she added.
“When people feel like there’s still a sense of hope, that’s really when they get better,” Harper said. “That has to be offered. People get so depressed and so anxious that they lose that sense of ‘I have a part and a place in the world.’ That’s what our staff is doing at this very second. They are offering another human being from this community hope,” he explained.
If you or a loved one is in need of that hope due to substance abuse or mental health problems, contact the Blount Memorial Emotional Health & Recovery Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 865-981-2300.