Outpatient behavioral care program adds to NRMC services

Published 2:04 pm Sunday, April 8, 2007

A new mental health services office is open next door to Natchez Regional Medical Center, headed by someone who is no stranger to the hospital where she worked for many years as a registered nurse.

Iva Ward, having earned her nurse practitioner degree in family psychiatric mental health, is unique in Natchez in her specialty and in operating the program in the mobile unit recently occupied by an orthopedic clinic.

Services at the behavioral management clinic will be available to anyone 18 or older.

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“We officially opened in January,” Ward said. “The new program will be in addition to the behavioral in-patient unit at (NRMC) for those who need hospitalization and the structured outpatient program, which includes group therapy and medication management.”

Ward said several counseling options are available in Natchez for mental health patients.

But there is a need for a program that offers specific medication management for people with mental health disorders or psychiatric issues, she said.

“Accurate diagnosis is most important for the mental health patient,” she said. “There are specific criteria that have to be met for certain disorders.”

Once a disorder has been diagnosed, the medication can be prescribed, Ward said.

As a nurse practitioner in her field of family psychiatric mental health, she is able to write those prescriptions and to manage them for patients.

“An example to show the importance of diagnosis and medication is depression,” she said.

“When a person is depressed, the differentiation has to be made between a major depression and a Bipolar 2 disorder. You can’t give a Bipolar 2 person an antidepressant. They might go manic.”

Ward grew up with a grandparent with a mental disorder. “I was exposed to that and always have been interested in it,” she said.

She has worked in the medical field for nearly 30 years. “In 2001, I was trying to decide what else I wanted to do,” she said. “I taught nursing at Alcorn (State University) for 12 years and even among students I counseled I saw the need for medication.”

As a new nurse practitioner, she can assist people to whom she has been drawn as a counselor and teacher.

A nurse practitioner is a mid-level practitioner who can write prescriptions and provide some of the services traditionally carried out by a physician, Ward said.

“I have two collaborating physicians who are psychiatrists,” she said.

Ward spent 18 months in a post-master’s degree program at the University of Southern Mississippi to receive her latest degree. “I could see the need for doing this,” she said.

Jeff Wesselman, Natchez Regional CEO, said he is pleased to add the service Ward provides.

“We are excited to offer the area’s only family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and are fortunate that this individual, Iva Ward, has her roots in Natchez, including over 20 years as a registered nurse at Natchez Regional,” Wesselman said.

“We were the first to bring inpatient mental health services to the area, and are now pleased to bring the full continuum of psychiatric care through the inpatient unit, structured outpatient program and now the outpatient program, which offers individual therapy and evaluation.”

Tom Holman is director of the NRMC behavioral health services program, which includes Ward’s clinic.

“I’m very pleased to see how this progressive medical community has embraced the behavioral health programs offered at Natchez Regional Medical Center, in particular our new outpatient component,” Holman said.

Ward knows there is a critical need for the services. “There are people I call the walking wounded, who have a lot of mental health issues but do not have a lot of resources for help. I wanted to provide a better quality of life for them.”

She has seen people who have “so many things going that are almost paralyzing for them in their everyday lives,” she said.

“People are worried about their medications,” she said. One of her jobs will be to set their minds at rest about the medications they are taking.

Anyone with mental health issues may call the clinic, she said. The number is 601-443-2557. Physicians also refer patients to her, as do social workers.

The entire behavioral program under the aegis of NRMC, includes a team of specialists, Ward said.

“There are licensed counseling social workers, activity therapists, psychiatrists and nurses. “We all work together,” she said.

“There are so many people who need the counseling and medication management to be able to live their lives to the fullest,” she said.

Ward began her nursing career in the intensive care unit at Natchez Regional, moving from staff nurse to head nurse.

After seven years there, she became head of quality improvement for the nursing department and then director of special care services.

In a few months, the clinic will move from its location in the former Passman-Haimson Clinic mobile unit to the former NRMC daycare center on the opposite side of the medical center.