Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center Treating Mentally Ill Patients For More Than A Century

Before Joe Baldacci became a Bangor City Councilor he fought to keep Dorothea Dix open and is currently working to restore services and help repurpose the facility.

“State legislators need to work with the city council to protect the mission of this hospital. We are very fortunate in Maine to have someone of the caliber of Dr Michelle Gardiner who is now serving as the medical Director of the Dorothea DIx hospital,” said City Councilor Joe Baldacci.

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12/27/2013 Reported on MPBN By: Patty B. Wight

It was more than a century ago that Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center opened its doors, a brick, mansion-like building perched on a hill overlooking Bangor. Its one of two state psychiatric hospitals that offer long term mental health treatment, and was named for a Civil War nurse and activist from Maine who worked to improve the lives of people with mental illness. As part of our series Mental Blocks, Patty Wight explored some of the challenges the hospital faces in carrying out its mission to improve the lives of its patients.

Only about 50 patients are treated at a time here, but to move through the building’s seemingly endless supply of locked doors, it takes a lot of keys.

“Oh, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. I have nine. And I’m only the librarian,” said Ruth Mare. She has worked at Dorothea Dix for 13 years after working in a high school. “I’m not an important person here!”

“I came here and found it easier to deal with the patients than the high school students,” she said. “High school kids are pretty bad these days.” Patty Wight: “What was the difference?” Ruth Mare: “Well, the patients are a lot more polite.”

Patients here struggle with severe mental health problems. They typically come here by way of a private psychiatric hospital, such as Spring Harbor or Acadia, when short-term treatment hasn’t brought significant improvement. Medical Director Michelle Gardner said most of the patients at Dorothea Dix arrive involuntarily, through a court process.

“At Dorothea Dix, we treat patients primarily with schizophrenia,” Gardner said. “50% of whom don’t have insight into the fact that they have mental illness. So by nature of that, they don’t see the need to take medications and engage in treatment.”

And It can be a challenging population to work with, as evidenced by the need for certain structural renovations. Librarian Ruth Mare opens the door to a newly refurbished unit, which she said had been damaged by violent patients.

“They broke a lot of the door frames and doors, so they had to do quite a lot of work in here,” said Mare.

The unit looks like a combination of hospital and dorm, with A nursing station to oversee patient rooms, and a common area with new chairs.

“They’re all plastic, and they’re weighted,” Mare said.
PW: “And are they plastic because you can’t break them like wood?” RM: “Hopefully.”

An average stay at Dorothea Dix is about 80 days, and that allows time for medications to take effect and for staff to fully understand the needs of individual patients.

“They’re on the floor with patients,” said Mare. “They’re talking to patients, they’re sitting at tables talking to patients. And they’re not scared of patients.”

Dorothea Dix Lounge areaSuperintendent Sharon Sprague said some staffers have been at Dorothea Dix for 25 years. Some patients have also been here for years waiting for discharge Sprague said there’s been a major gap in supported apartments in the Bangor area ever since funding cuts a few years ago.

“And they were very simple, they were supported apartments where staff was on site,” Sprague said. “So if somebody got afraid in the middle of the night, and if that’s when they heard voices, or that’s when they struggled the most, they had a staff person elsewhere in the building on site that they knew that they could talk to.”

But what’s particularly frustrating for Medical Director Michelle Gardner is when staff create a good discharge plan for a patient, but it backfires.

For the full article go here.

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