Closing the doors on mental health

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Karlene Johnson and her daughter Jacqueline, 16, worry that the closure of the Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center's Behavioral Health Services will leave the teen without peer group counseling. Jacqueline credits her recovery from drug addiction and depression to her counseling at BHS.

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Karlene Johnson and her daughter Jacqueline, 16, worry that the closure of the Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center's Behavioral Health Services will leave the teen without peer group counseling. Jacqueline credits her recovery from drug addiction and depression to her counseling at BHS.

Jacqueline Johnson says her peer counseling group at Behavioral Health Services helped her to admit her drug addiction and recover from depression. The program, that she says saved her life, will be eliminated at the end of the month.

The 16-year-old Carson City teen and her parents - and hundreds of other mental-health patients - are irate that Carson Tahoe Regional Healthcare is closing the outpatient program as part of the private, nonprofit medical center's cost-cutting reorganization announced last week. Up to 50 hospital employees were laid off and several departments were cut or consolidated.

Carson City has other counseling services, but they are either concentrated on substance-abuse problems, or they are intense in-patient programs, said Rick Gutierrez, senior juvenile probation officer in Carson City.

"What I see happening with the result of BHS closing its doors is it will probably result in a lot of these kids re-offending and getting further involved in the juvenile legal system," he said. "Ultimately, it will increase the number of kids the court commits to juvenile correctional institutions."

Healthcare system spokeswoman Cheri Glockner said the hospital has been subsidizing the outpatient mental health program for $350,000 a year. She said the community response to the closure has been significant - but the hospital is not reconsidering its decision.

"There seems to be some energy from the state and local government level behind looking at how to increase services in the area," Glockner said.

Local officials are talking, but nothing has been decided yet, said Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City.

"I'm seeing what we can do to either delay the closing or make sure we have alternative services in place," Parnell said.

The closure means 745 patients need to find alternative counseling in the area. Government programs that have referred adolescents to the program since 1999 will have to use other resources, which some say are limited or at capacity.

Carson City School District recommends the program to parents. Behavioral Health Services also trains teachers about mental-health and educational disorders. When the program closes that will all be gone, said Dr. Keith Croskery, director of student support services.

One concern for patients and families: the waiting lists at other Carson City clinics. Those who have called the hospital's help line are given the numbers of three local providers of child and adolescent counseling. One of those organizations has been flooded with calls.

Carson Professional Group doesn't have the providers who can cover the need, said office manager Lisa Yesitis.

"We're all looking at it as a nightmare that there are no resources in the community that can meet the needs when BHS closes," Yesitis said.

The group has five counselors for teens and adolescents and the earliest openings are in mid-July. It can take up to 30 more patients. It doesn't have a psychologist or psychiatrist, which means it can't take Medicare or Medicaid.

"If there's any way on earth they can find a way to stay open, we need that," she said.

Carson Mental Health, a state clinic, is expected to take 30 adolescents and 20 more adult patients, said Sueann Bawden, director of clinical services for Nevada Rural Clinics, which oversees Carson Mental Health. She's not worried about being inundated with referrals - so far they've only gotten one call.

"We're prepared to mobilize," she said. "Effective July 1 we have three new therapists. We are prepared to bring in another psychologist from Silver Springs if needed."

The private mental health sector is also looking to take new patients, said Jerry Cinani, a counselor with Sierra Counseling and Neurotheraphy.

"We could probably accommodate at least 100 or more patients in less than a year's time, depending on patient condition," he said.

Sierra Counseling, which has two counselors and two psychologists, could also start group counseling, if that's needed in the community, Cinani said.

This group counseling for teens and parents is needed, said Trina Dahlin, deputy district attorney for the juvenile division.

"Right now there is nothing there," she said. "Somebody is going to have to form it, and while I think it's a great idea, no one has stepped up to the plate."

The closure is three weeks away, and many patients don't know where they are going to go. Jacqueline, who will be a junior at Carson High School, doesn't want to go any place else.

"I don't feel that I can find someone else that compares to them," she said. "I don't want to lose the support of the counselors and the other kids. They are my age and they are clean and sober. We're all on the same page."

The teen, who works part-time at Sonic Drive-In, was smoking marijuana and fighting with other teens two-and-a-half years ago.

After her father committed suicide in 1995, she said, she didn't receive the counseling she needed. That brought about her rebellion in sixth grade, the drug use and "hanging out with the wrong people."

She attempted to take her own life in eighth grade. After a week-long stay at West Hills in Reno, she was referred to Behavioral Health Services in March 2004. Her parents also went to counseling sessions that taught the proper methods of raising a child with behavioral problems.

"The parenting group is great because you think you're alone in all this, but you're not," said Jacqueline's mother, Karlene Johnson.

Jacqueline's transformation took time - a lot of it. For the first year-and-a-half, she spent six hours a week in group counseling. That's about 432 hours. For the past six months that's decreased to bi-weekly sessions.

Karlene Johnson doesn't have a plan yet of where to send her daughter after it closes.

"When they close those doors it could be a death sentence for a teen who is just starting recovery," Johnson said.

Some could have psychological abandonment issues and relapse, her daughter said. They could start using drugs again.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


• Behavioral Health Services is a comprehensive program that offers psychological evaluations, assessments and referrals for psychiatric evaluations. They can counsel teens and children with substance abuse problems and mental illness.

• Programs provided in this department include: ADHD testing and treatment and a monthly support group for parents, adolescent intensive outpatient services, adult psychiatric/mood disorders, chemical dependency, dual diagnosis treatment, counseling and neurobehavioral services, parenting support groups.


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