Accessing counseling and prescription medications in Danville/Pittsylvania County is difficult – especially for the uninsured and underinsured. The Free Clinic of Danville, Piedmont Access To Health Services (“PATHS”) and Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services are proud to announce a new partnership that will make a difference for individuals with common mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, or mild-to-moderate depressive disorders.

The Free Clinic provides medical services to the low-income, uninsured. PATHS serves those that cannot be seen at the Free Clinic, as well as those with insurance (Medicaid, Medicare and any other group/private insurance). The two organizations served a grand total of 7,412 unduplicated patients in 2008. Of that census, 1,045 were found to have common mental health problems that would benefit from specialized mental health treatment.

“The region’s mental health concerns are exacerbated by the fact that many of those living in the area are experiencing financial hardship, which in and of itself presents a major stressor,” says Denise Buckner, Executive Director of the Free Clinic. Kay Crane, PATHS CEO noted: “Economic duress is placing a higher demand on the community-based health care network in general as people lose jobs and health insurance.” Adverse health effects of chronic stress are linked to six leading causes of death, including: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services (“DPCS”) provides mental health services to residents of Danville/Pittsylvania County who are diagnosed with Serious Mental Illnesses (“SMI”). The 1,045 identified by The Free Clinic and PATHS would not qualify because they do not have a SMI. In a new partnership, DPCS, The Free Clinic and PATHS are setting a plan into motion that will help make a difference for those found to be in this gap.

The partner organizations have pooled resources, along with $82,595 in grant funding awarded by the Virginia Health Care Foundation to implement “A New Lease on Life”. The initiative involves DPCS placing a Licensed Professional Counselor at PATHS’ Health Center of the Piedmont – Chatham location on Mondays, the Free Clinic on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and PATHS’ Health Center of the Piedmont – Danville location on Thursdays and Fridays. The counselor will provide basic mental health counseling and therapy services to existing Free Clinic and PATHS’ patients who would not otherwise be able to access mental health services at all.

“We were all excited about the opportunity, but finding the right person to fill the role was a critical piece of the puzzle,” said DPCS Executive Director, Jim Bebeau. “After several months of searching and interviewing, we are confident we’ve made the right decision.”

Sandy Stephenson had been a DPCS employee between 1989 and 2002, before relocating to Northern Virginia. After being away, Sandy’s call to DPCS with a desire to come back to the area was perfectly timed. She received both her Bachelors and Master Degrees from Longwood College, and has over 21 years of clinical mental health experience with all ages – from children to adults. “(As a Licensed Professional Counselor) I enjoy helping people get through the tough times in life. The reward is seeing them get through it, and be better people as the result of their experience,” said Sandy.

Sandy began seeing patients at the Free Clinic and PATHS’ sites in early November and has already begun providing services to 18 patients. Projections indicate that she will serve at least 110 patients within the next year.

Everyone involved in the collaborative firmly agrees that “A New Lease on Life” will reduce the consequences of failure to treat mental illness, including protracted physical illness, unemployment, substance abuse, and inappropriate incarceration. By treating anxiety and depression among consumers with physical health problems through integrated care, the project is expected to achieve cost-effective outcomes. This will be accomplished by the provision of “best-practice” treatment and recovery supports that have been proven to minimize the negative impact of mental illness and optimize overall patient health.

The group is proud of a their progress thus far, and looks forward to this being just the start of a successful model that can be expanded as resources become available, and also one that can be duplicated in other communities seeking success from collaboration.

For more information on “A New Lease on Life”, contact any of the following:

Jim Bebeau, Executive Director
Danville/Pittsylvania Community Services

Denise Buckner, Executive Director
Free Clinic of Danville

Kay Crane, Chief Executive Officer
Piedmont Access To Health Services