Longleaf Hospital expanding to meet growing demand for services
The expansion of Longleaf Hospital in Alexandria will provide additional resources for active-duty and veteran members of the military who are suffering from the devastating impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It will also give individuals who are struggling with addictions the support they need to successfully recover.
Located on Versailles Boulevard, the current facility employs 268 professionals, has 94 beds, covers more than 54,000 square feet, and treats approximately 3,600 patients a year. When the $13.5 million expansion effort is completed in 2020, the hospital will have grown to 77,329 square feet in size. This expansion will allow Longleaf Hospital to employ nearly 368 professionals, house 139 beds, and ultimately have the ability to treat an estimated 5,600 patients annually.
“This expansion is so important for central Louisiana and the state as a whole,” noted Alexandria Mayor Jeffery W. Hall. “Substance abuse and addiction are devastating to people and communities. When someone is faced with a life-threatening reaction to drugs or alcohol, it is vital that they have local acute care treatment options. And, once they are stabilized, they need outpatient programs to help them overcome their addiction and get on the path to being a healthy and productive citizen. This expansion provides both of those things.”
But it is more than just patients who will benefit.
“This expansion will create 100 new jobs,” Hall said. “And these are well-paying jobs. These are the kinds of jobs we need to keep our young people here working to help benefit Alexandria.”
With the expansion, Longleaf will be the second-largest behavioral health hospital in the state.
“It’s not about who is the largest; it’s about serving the needs of the community,” explained Chief Executive Officer Claire Hick, MHA. And the community extends beyond Alexandria, as patients come from throughout the state and the country depending on their treatment needs. “About 20 percent of our patients are from Rapides Parish,” Hick explained.
Longleaf currently provides acute care services for patients who have alcohol or drug dependencies, members of the military who are suffering from PTSD and other mental health disorders, patients who have low-acuity needs, high-functioning individuals who have suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and high-acuity, low-functioning individuals who have psychosis, which is often drug-related.
“We keep them safe and stabilize them so that they are able to safely transition to other facilities for long-term care,” Hick said. “Then, hopefully, they come back to take part in our intensive outpatient program as part of their plan for continuing care services.”
Hick said that the growing demand for services drove the decision to expand.
“We are having to deflect an average of 30 patients a day,” she said. “The biggest need we are seeing is addiction-related.” Alcohol addiction, synthetic marijuana use, and benzodiazepine (which includes drugs such as Xanax, Ativan, and Valium) abuse are examples of the issues that are bringing an increased number of patients to Longleaf.
“Synthetic marijuana is so dangerous,” Hick said, adding that a patient who was fighting for her life after just one use of the drug had been admitted that day. “One bad decision – people don’t realize that what they ingest one time can have results that can be long-term.”
In addition to substance abuse patients, military members are another population where the hospital is seeing significant growth. Longleaf offers an innovative new program known as F.L.A.G.S., which stands for Forgiving Losses and Gaining Strength. The program is part of a national military partnership that has brought patients from around the country to Longleaf to receive treatment for PTSD, addiction, depression, anxiety, and psychosis.
Longleaf will be the first hospital in the 300-member Acadia Healthcare system to pilot a new virtual reality treatment program, called BehaVR, for military-related issues. Dr. Michael Parker, medical director and a retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel, said he is excited about the new treatment programs for active-duty soldiers and veterans. “When someone is in a mental health crisis, these treatments are like the difference between riding a bike and driving a sports car,” he said.
Parker explained that Longleaf is the main inpatient mental healthcare provider for Fort Polk, and they have a service arrangement with the Louisiana National Guard as well. Referring to the F.L.A.G.S. program, which is a 30-day program for nonacute patients, roughly 90 percent of the participants are veterans. “It’s a great program to serve those who served us,” Parker said.
Hick noted that many of the staff who are working in F.L.A.G.S. and other military programs are themselves veterans. This helps the treatment process because patients tend to feel more comfortable when they are working with someone who can relate to their experiences firsthand.
Along with being able to treat more patients, Hick said that she expects to be able to serve additional populations because of the expansion.
“We are licensed to take children and adolescents,” Hick explained. “We don’t currently accept them as patients due to space limitations, but we hope to after the expansion.”
The expansion will also result in the opening of a new pharmacy, which will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It is important for us to be able to help patients access their medications so that they can manage their symptoms and become productive citizens,” Hick said.
While Hick is excited about having new facilities and additional staff, the thing she is looking forward to the most is not having to turn away patients in crisis because they don’t have space.
“That’s what is so rewarding. It is really exciting to see someone who came to us in tears and then see them leaving in a positive state and expressing their gratitude to you,” she said. “It turns lives around.”