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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

How the Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio is providing in-home mental health treatment and spreading the word about its importance.

With mental illness, drug use, suicides, and depression on the rise, demand for behavioral health services is higher than ever. At the same time, crucial workforce development in the mental health sector lags behind.  Services are hard to come by and patients face long wait times for appointments and challenges with insurance -- all of it accelerated by the Covid pandemic.

Yet specialized nurses from the Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio are providing the most comprehensive range of in-home behavioral healthcare services in Northeast Ohio. What’s more, they deliver all these services where their patients are most comfortable: in the comfort of their own homes. 
“People don’t think of us as a behavioral health provider when in fact we have been providing a comprehensive range of services for over 50 years,” said Renee Coughlin, chief operating officer. “Providing mental health services in the home is ideal because patients can remain in a calm familiar setting, and at the same time, our nurses gain better insight into the day-to-day challenges they may face, as well as the support system they may (or may not) have access to at home. All this can improve treatment.”
Last year, the nonprofit healthcare provider made nearly 6,000 of these home visits. The organization's small but intrepid team of six behavioral health nurses sees patients for a full spectrum of diagnoses, including addiction and substance abuse disorders, adjustment disorders, Alzheimer's disease, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, dementia, depression, dual diagnosis, hoarding, neurocognitive disorders, OCD, PTSD/trauma, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia.
This is one of the major things that sets VNAO apart in the Northeast Ohio mental health landscape. While other homecare providers serve niche populations such as people with autism, intellectual disabilities, drug abuse or detox, the VNAO team treats a full range of mental health needs.   

Spreading the Word
In addition to her day-to-day work as a visiting nurse, Tara Tribuzzo, RN, behavioral health clinical manager, is spreading the word about the importance of understanding and treating mental health disorders. Tribuzzo is one of the trainers for educational sessions put on by the Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County. She explains that participation in Crisis Intervention Training is becoming required curriculum for first responders. She adds that it is proving to be helpful for many other public-facing civilian employees like librarians and bus drivers, as well. 
Tribuzzo helps participants learn how to better engage and communicate with people in crisis, including de-escalation strategies and tips on how to handle common scenarios. 

Doreen Weir
Tribuzzo estimates that the majority of people with mental health needs are going untreated. In fact, according to a 2021 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 47 percent of adults with mental illness reported receiving treatment in the past year.
VNAO patient, Doreen Weir, is one of the fortunate ones who is receiving the care she needs. After living with alcoholism for much of her life, she is now in recovery and living in an apartment in Cogswell Hall, a residential facility in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. She lives there independently and receives the support she needs. While stable in her recovery for three years now, she suffers from schizophrenia with a depressive disorder, also known as schizoaffective disorder, and experiences mood swings and occasional hallucinations.  VNAO Nurse Tribuzzo visits the 55-year-old every three weeks for an injection of Invega Sustenna, an antipsychotic medication that works to restore the balance of certain natural chemicals in the brain to manage the symptoms of her illness.

Tribuzzo says you never know what you are walking into on a home visit, and while it can be unpredictable, most patients welcome their visits. Either way, the nurses are trained and prepared. 

“For the most part, patients look forward to our visits,” she added. “Sometimes we even receive thank you notes and Christmas cards.” 

Holistic compassionate care is the core of the VNAO mission, and they provide these services regardless of patients’ financial circumstances. In addition to behavioral health, the VNAO provides home health care for a range of health conditions, medical surgical nursing, hospice, rehabilitation, and private duty services. Founded over 120 years ago, the organization is a pioneer in providing high-quality, home-based care.  The VNAO team advances their patients’ independence and dignity everyday throughout nine Northeast Ohio counties.