Fortwood Center expands mental health care under new ownership

Fortwood Center expands mental health care under new ownership

April 9th, 2014 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

The Fortwood Center Administration building.

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

The Fortwood Center, Tennessee's oldest mental health clinic, today will mark its first full year under new ownership, touting expanded services and a new executive director as the facility prepares to embark on its 66th year in Chattanooga.

Gayle Lodato, new senior director of Hamilton County Services for the Fortwood Center, says the merger of Knoxville-based Helen Ross McNabb center and the Chattanooga-based Fortwood Center has brought increased psychiatric resources to Chattanooga, including more qualified mental health professionals and expanded services.

In addition to exploring new services, the group is seeking to grow its credibility by hiring better physicians and psychiatrists, Lodato said.

"We look at this as an expansion," Lodato said.

Fortwood was founded in 1947 as the Chattanooga Child Guidance Clinic, following a study of mental health problems in the area conducted in 1946 by the Chattanooga Council of Community Forces. It was the first outpatient mental health service in Tennessee at the time.

The clinic changed names over the years, first to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Guidance Clinic, then the Chattanooga Psychiatric Clinic and finally to the Fortwood Center in 1985. The group is now leaving the Fortwood name behind and will transition to the Helen Ross McNabb Center in coming months.

Following Helen Ross McNabb's takeover of Fortwood's operation, Lodato says that the group has bolstered its services, specifically those targeted at children. The center served more than 950 children through last Christmas and 1,400 adults, numbers that should rise even higher this year, she said.

Gayle Lodato

Gayle Lodato

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

Fortwood still offers its standard levels of care, which include basic case management, intensive outpatient services and even home visits. Such counseling services range from one visit per week from a patient to as much as three to four hours a day, three to four days per week.

"We can treat someone with mild depression and anxiety, and we can treat someone who is a paranoid schizophrenic," she said.

The center is also exploring a plan to offer so-called "wraparound" school services to offer mental health counselors to students in the area, an in-school program that reduces the stigma of seeking counseling, the company found after it provided the program in Knoxville.

Another program the group launched in Knoxville, with the help of millions of dollars in outside funding, was to help children who are underinsured or uninsured seek mental help.

"It's not just about adding programs, it's adding levels of care," Lodato said. "A misconception is someone is in recovery from mental illness or addiction, it's a daily thing. They need daily support. We're there to provide support."

The center will continue to seek increased funding to help offer its services, both through partnerships with schools and hospitals, as well as through grants from the city and other organizations.

"We will raise private dollars to cover care for individuals or make sure they're plugged into centers they need," said Emily Scheuneman, director of community relations for Helen Ross McNabb.

The city is already giving the center $55,000 to help offset the costs of keeping a behavioral specialist at Calvin Donaldson and help fund the Mitchell Home, among other costs. Lodato, who requested $105,000, hopes officials can do even more in the future to bolster preventative mental health care.

"If money is put into it by the city, we can decrease the ambulance coming in," Scheunemane said.

Officials believe that one in four individuals will experience a need for mental health in any given year, which can strain the resources of any organization. That's why the group is working to maintain its roots in Chattanooga, despite the merger with the Knoxville-based Helen Ross McNabb Center.

Part of that work is to maintain a Chattanooga-based board, and to invite community members in to learn about the center's progress, she said.

"It's not like this Knoxville-based organization is making decision for Chattanooga without guidance and advice," Lodato said. "Members of the previous Fortwod board that are now service on Helen Ross McNabb board. We also have a community advisory board, anybody who was on the Fortwood board previous to the merger who is not serving on another board makes up the community advisory board. We want to make decisions that match needs of community."

Helen Ross McNabb's Sunrise Series will make a stop in Chattanooga today at 9 a.m. at the Helen Ross McNabb Center on Shallowford Road to help demonstrate the concept that the center is open 24 hours per day to help patients -- from sunrise to sunrise.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at 423-757-6315 or with tips and documents.