Bay Pines VA Healthcare System
Innovative Program Makes Big Impact
"I was crashing and burning...in a downward spiral...broken," recalls r etired Coast Guard Veteran Stewart Taylor of his condition prior to starting the Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC) at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System (BPVAHCS). Mental illness can ruin a person’s life, but this specialized program is making a big difference for some of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) most difficult-to-treat patients.
The PRRC, located at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Bay Pines, Florida, is a long-term intensive outpatient program which offers a wide range of psychotherapeutic groups with highly individualized treatment plans. It uses a community integration model of care focused on helping patients connect with their local communities in personally meaningful ways. A prerequisite for the program is having a specific goal the patient wants to work toward while in it. As this goal is realized, mental health symptoms can decrease significantly and, in some cases, go away entirely.
“Our patients make enormous changes in their lives,” said Dr. Matthew Knisley, PRRC’s program psychiatrist. “We’ve helped Veterans who were so unwell they could barely leave their homes. We are approaching mental health care in innovative ways that are long overdue."
Taylor recently graduated from the PRRC program. Although he cannot recall receiving any mental health treatment prior to his admission, he had struggled for years with Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD). Taylor had turned to illicit drug use as a way of coping with his illness. He feels that without the PRRC, he would be homeless “living alone by the railroad tracks.”
Once Taylor started actively participating in the program, he became more optimistic and hopeful. Over the next two years, his BAD was controlled with medication. He also discovered insights into his complicated past and started to develop higher self-esteem. Taylor remembers that his work in PRRC was challenging at times but ultimately worth the work he invested.
Taylor's co-worker from before his transformation noticed differences as well. When they unexpectedly crossed paths recently, his former co-worker remarked that Taylor looked happy and was standing taller than he had been before.
“We've seen great success," said Chrissy Agenor, MPH, RN-BC, and the program’s nurse manager since its inception. I remember another a past graduate whose poor interpersonal skills prevented him from keeping employment, said Agenor.
When Taylor started the program, he was on the verge of applying for disability benefits out of desperation. He recently visited Agenor and proudly boasted 18 months of employment with the same job.
The PRRC has graduated numerous Veterans with similar positive results throughout its eight years of operation. Patients of the PRRC receive a diverse array of mental health treatments provided by a large multidisciplinary team.
The team is comprised of Doctors of Psychology and medicine, clinical social workers, licensed mental health counselors, recreational therapists, and nurses with decades of combined mental health care experience. Some team members have even had specialized training beyond what is required of their licenses.
The team also includes uniquely certified Veteran peer specialists who have all overcome their own mental health struggles.
“Each person gets to really use their strengths in their position, which leads to the best patient care,” said Agenor.
Many Veterans who seek treatment from the PRRC have already had therapies in other VA mental health programs. The Mental Health and Behavioral Science Service within the BPVAHCS boasts a renowned military sexual trauma program, a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program, and an outpatient case management program, among others. These programs have often left their therapeutic marks on patients long before they reach the PRRC.
"We get a lot of referrals for cases that have already been through other programs,” said Dr. Knisley . “By the time they get to us, they are poised for success.”
In the future, Knisley hopes to see comprehensive reform of the entire PRRC system nationwide to ensure all PRRCs are being managed and operated optimally.
As for Taylor, he plans to follow-up with his routine psychiatric care and to move forward in his life with newfound health and peace of mind.
For more information about the PRRC program at the BPVAHCS, please call Dr. Knisley at 727-398-6661 ext. 12594. For more information about local PRRC care options, call your local VA’s mental health department and inquire.