Nearly 54,000 adults and 18,000 children live with serious mental illnesses in the state of Idaho, according to 2010 statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Until Oct. 13, 2013, Wood River Valley residents with mental-health issues often drove to Twin Falls or Boise to seek treatment, if they sought any at all.
The St. Luke’s Clinic in Hailey opened a mental-health division a year ago, following a two-year task force on community mental-health needs.
“We were at that time lacking significantly in psychiatry and lacking significantly in accessible and affordable psychiatric services,” said Erin Pfaeffle, St. Luke’s manager of community health services and co-chair of the task force.
St. Luke’s agreed to build an outpatient mental health clinic, Pfaeffle said, and it was made possible by significant philanthropic support. Pfaeffle helped recruit psychiatrist Dr. Timothy Stoddard, who moved to the valley from Coeur d’Alene, and licensed clinical social worker Gay Miremont. St. Luke’s hired registered nurse Elaine Durkheimer in May of this year, to facilitate a connection between patients’ physical and mental-health needs. The clinic taps into the St. Luke’s electronic patient database, Pfaeffle said, to ensure medicine is “safely reconciled.”
They primarily serve adolescents over 15, Pfaeffle said, and adults. Miremont provides therapy and Stoddard focuses on medication management, but “has great skill in therapy,” Pfaeffle said.
Stoddard alone has seen over 340 patients in the past year, an “incredible number for a clinic starting off,” he said.
“We still have new patients every week,” Miremont said.
While the majority of the patients are valley residents, there are people coming in from farther locations such as Challis, Salmon, Stanley and Carey. Facilitating shorter commutes for mental-health services creates a better likelihood that people will come regularly, Stoddard said, considering that many of these patients previously had to drive farther for help.
“It is hard enough to seek treatment even when it is available,” he said. “When you add in that extra component of an appointment practically taking all day … that would cause a lot of people to [think that] it’s too big of a hurdle.”
A year in, the organization has made inroads and is in a position to evaluate future goals. Pfaeffle said child psychiatry patients still generally have to travel for care, and the clinic would like to offer tele-psychiatry (video conferencing) options to make treatment easier for families. The clinic has a number of Hispanic patients and Stoddard is able to facilitate their treatment with his Spanish language skills—however, he said they need to continue reaching out and bridging cultural and linguistic barriers with that community.
“It’s been really an asset because it’s something they wouldn’t feel comfortable addressing with someone, trying to talk about their problems or emotional issues,” Durkheimer said.
With the sheer number of patients coming in, the clinic could need more psychiatric experts in coming years, Pfaeffle said. In the meantime, the staff is challenged and fulfilled.
“I feel really good about what we’ve been able to accomplish in this year,” Stoddard said. “I know personally, I’m happy to be here a year later.”
To contact the clinic, call 727-8970.
Amy Busek: firstname.lastname@example.org