As I walk into PrairieCare Medical Group on a bright summer day, I’m thinking, ‘I am going to hate this. I am going to hate this. I am going to hate this.’
And for about the first week of the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) I’m enrolled in, I do. But then a remarkable shift occurs. I start to enjoy hearing from my peers, who are here being treated for various mood disorders. I look forward to my weekly one-on-one sessions with Maria Harmandayan, M.D., my psychiatrist and PrairieCare’s medical director of adult services for the Rochester clinic, who diagnosed me with having bipolar disorder after years of arduous mental health struggles.
The PrairieCare team mindfully set 9 a.m. to noon as the IOP hours, says Dr. H – as Dr. Harmandayan is known around here both for being approachable and for having a hard-to-pronounce name – because people with mood disorders tend to languish at home, without a sense of purpose to their day. Being here gives us one, and it works.
It’s all part of the plan for PrairieCare, which touts its bold slogan on its southwest Rochester sign: “transforming psychiatric healthcare.” PrairieCare, with seven satellites in the Twin Cities, opened locally in 2014 for adolescent treatment, and in 2015 for adults. It isn’t striving to compete with behemoth Mayo Clinic or even smaller Zumbro Valley Health Center, say its leaders, but rather offer complementary services to those who need mental health care.
“Being motivated to get on with your day, giving people a reason to get up and be some place and being held accountable by a group of your peers, it’s therapeutic,” Dr. Harmandayan says of the adult IOP. “It’s a safe place even if it’s not always comfortable.”
What is transformative about PrairieCare? Mayo has a similar program to IOP; and there’s also hospitalization and residential programs for people with mood disorders. But PrairieCare’s framework is unique for various reasons including, foremost, being physician-owned. It’s also small, with 25 Rochester employees, which keeps bureaucracy to a minimum. However, it’s the team’s collaborative approach to providing care that stands out.
Every day, a team comprised of a myriad of health care professionals rounds to discuss every patient within both the adult and adolescent wings. Every day a patient’s doctor, therapist, nurse, social worker and other team members collaborate to discuss immediate, next best steps. Seeing Dr. Harmandayan weekly, or sometimes twice weekly, as I did during IOP, is a frequency of visitation rarely experienced with outpatient psychiatric care. PrairieCare goes farther by offering school curriculum for adolescents, marriage therapy for adult patients and parents of adolescent patients, and family therapy for all.
Christopher Wall, M.D., president and medical director of the Rochester site and a child and adolescent psychiatrist, says PrairieCare staff amass a movie’s worth of information, versus a snapshot, about all patients on an everyday basis. In this way, little gets overlooked.
“We can see struggles happening real time and coach them real time as they struggle,” says Dr. Wall. “We’re more likely to help them.”
The statistics are staggering. Depending on the research, between 20 and 25 percent of the general population struggles with a diagnosable mental health condition – and half of those experience symptoms before age 14. More than 40 million adults in the United States experience mental illness annually, according to PrairieCare’s website. Patients in crisis, be they youth or adult, often feel they have two harrowing choices – hospitalization or suicide.
“Our goal is to keep people out of the hospital, keep them functioning and without compromising quality of care,” says Dr. Harmandayan.
PrairieCare doesn’t help everyone, but with a free needs assessment as an entry point, financial assistance for those patients who qualify, and serving a variety of mental health conditions – including bipolar, depression, anxiety and ADHD – the clinic has managed to make a positive name for itself, relying primarily on word of mouth for gaining new patients. Referrals come, too. Patients, though, are the best spokespeople.
“Those kids who hated Dr. Wall and who now say, ‘Dr. Wall saved my life,’ those are rewarding experiences,” Dr. Wall says. “You get kind of worked up when you think about it.”