Some peace of mind


January 27, 2006 --Gainesville, Fla. -- Maggie Laborta, CEO of Meridian Behavioral Health Care, passes outside the window of one of the ten patient rooms at the new short-term residential treatment facility at Meridian Behavioral Health Care, during the center's grand opening, Friday, January 27, 2006. The ten-bed facility will offer residential treatment for a period of up to six months to patients who are recommended by Meridian's crisis stabilization unit.

BRIANA BROUGH/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 11:30 p.m.
The winter rye grass in the courtyard was trampled and the shrubs along the fence had been popped in for the occasion.
But that didn't stop dozens of visitors from gathering in the sunshine Friday afternoon to mark the opening of the new short-term residential treatment center for those whose lives have been altered by mental illness.
Meridian Behavioral Healthcare created the 10-bed center by remodeling former office space in the building at 4300 SW 13th St. that also houses its crisis stabilization unit.
Speaking at the opening, Deedee Smith said, "Florida ranks 45th in the nation in its spending on mental health and substance abuse. This facility helps to meet a long overdue need in this area."
Follow-up treatment programs have been severely limited for those who are dealing with a mental illness, Smith said. The attorney and advocate for victims of child abuse has served on the Meridian board of directors. She is also the wife of state Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, who was one of the legislative sponsors of the bill that will provide the first year's funding for the new facility.
The short-term residential treatment center serves Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Putnam, Suwannee and Union counties.
Too often, program managers said, those who have been returned to the community too soon wind up in the emergency room because of their psychiatric symptoms. In some cases, they may find themselves in a confrontation with law enforcement.
Meridian's residential treatment program will provide a safe, structured environment where they can develop the skills and resources they will need to successfully return to life "out in the world."
First stop for a Meridian client with psychiatric problems will be the crisis stabilization unit.
That is typically a three- to four-day stay with medication and education, but without a lot of intensive treatment, explained Margarita Labarta, CEO of Meridian.
"Most folks can stabilize within that time, or at least within a week. With additional follow-up care they are OK back in the community," Labarta said.
"Others need additional support and this new facility will allow us to add more therapy, including occupational therapy. People can stay 90 to 120 days, depending on their need, to become reintegrated into regular community life."
Labarta said there is still work to be done to finish the new unit, but the target date for opening for business is mid-February.
On that first day, according to Labarta, at least five people now in the crisis stabilization unit will be moved into the facility. The remaining five beds will fill quickly.
"We have folks with very long stays in our crisis unit, which is not an adequate or therapeutic environment, but it is the only place where we can keep them safe," she said. "We'll soon have 10 new beds. We need many more."
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com

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