Health organizations unite for the mentally ill
Earl Gourdine said a car crash in 2008 put him in a “confused” and lonely place.
The wreck left him with a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Gourdine said adding that trauma to his bipolar disorder made him unsure “why things were the way they were.”
That’s how he ended up at a Highland Rivers Health mental health facility in Rome — first as a patient, later as an employee.
When he heard that Highland, headquartered in Dalton, is partnering with Georgia Mountains Health to create the Appalachian Integrated Mission (AIM) Health program he was excited because of the help the program can offer to people with mental disorders.
Gourdine spoke Wednesday morning at an open house at the Highland adult mental health services facility on Shugart Road in Dalton where the AIM program is housed. The program sprung out of a $1.6 million grant awarded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and will provide primary health care at the mental health facility, officials said.
To Gourdine — who applied for and accepted a job with AIM — the program means the opportunity to change lives for the better.
“Challenges are what makes life interesting, but overcoming is what gives life meaning,” Gourdine said. “For me, at this job, I get joy from knowing I’ve helped someone. The benefit of it helping me is just an addition that comes with it.”
AIM is expected to help adults with mental disorders by treating cardiometabolic diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes, said AIM Program Director Angela Norris.
“There are different studies that have shown that people with cardiometabolic disease are dying 25 years younger than the general population,” Norris said. “A lot of that stems from proper access to health care. So we’re providing primary health care services to people who might not normally get them.
“It could be some patients who struggle with (mental) disorders can’t access health care. It could be they have a fear of doctors. It could be a lack of understanding on how to maneuver in the system. Being here in the actual facility — well — if they’re already here seeing their therapists they can just walk down the hall and we can see them for their medical problems, too.”
Norris said AIM will have two exam rooms in the Shugart facility that will be used by a nurse practitioner and a care coordinator who will help patients with housing and finding a health care specialist, among other things.
There’s also hopes of expanding by building a mobile care unit that can travel throughout North Georgia and offer services to residents who can’t travel by themselves, Norris said.
“That’s something we need,” Dalton Mayor David Pennington, who was the guest speaker at the open house, said.
“It is nice to have a local facility and plans to expand,” he said. “They (patients) don’t have to go to Atlanta or Nashville. They can come to Dalton. This is a very valuable part of the community. We really appreciate it.”
Highland President Jason Bearden said he hopes Pennington isn’t the only community leader to rally behind AIM.
“I think the community just ought to be very proud over this gem of a program,” Bearden said. “I would really like the community to step up to the plate. Let’s see how we can partner together to make this bigger and better as a community collaboration.”