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Johns Hopkins Medicine Suburban - Helping Patients Find a New Sense of Purpose

New Directions Fall 2016

Helping Patients Find a New Sense of Purpose

Date: September 28, 2016

David Ruben, Sylvan Herman, David Silver and June Falb
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From left: David Ruben, Suburban Hospital trustee and immediate past chair of the Suburban Hospital Foundation; philanthropist Sylvan Herman; David Silver, immediate past chair of the Suburban Hospital Board of Trustees; and June Falb, vice president of development.

Suburban Hospital’s comprehensive Behavioral Health Program includes crisis services, a 24-bed inpatient unit, an addiction treatment program and a day treatment program. Many patients enter these programs through the Emergency Department, which has seen a record number of people seeking behavioral health care over the past decade. In 2015, the hospital served more than 2,500 patients with mental health disorders. Community mental health centers, homeless services, private psychiatrists and therapists refer their patients. In addition, significant population growth in the region and the increasing number of insured patients has added greatly to the demand.

“Mental illness is a national crisis,” says Dr. Michael Knable, chairman of psychiatry. “Ensuring that persons who need psychiatric treatment receive it in a timely and effective way has become a heightened priority.”

Suburban’s existing Behavioral Health Crisis Area, built in 2005, includes a fully secured “crisis pod” with two beds and a common area that accommodates an additional two patients if needed. It is the only crisis facility within the Bethesda/Chevy Chase catchment area. Patients come in various stages of mental distress—psychotic, depressed, suicidal or under the influence of substances—and all must be kept safe and comfortable while they are assessed to determine the need for inpatient or other appropriate care.

“Our crisis pod is not large enough to accommodate the current average of eight patients per day whom we now see,” says Susan Webb, LCSW-C, director of behavioral health emergency and outpatient services. She points out that Suburban’s strong reputation for psychiatric care is now attracting patients from well beyond the Bethesda/Chevy Chase area.

“In addition,” says Webb, “with a shortage of inpatient beds in Maryland, we have patients at times waiting more than two or three days in the Emergency Department. All of this means that our crisis service is now experiencing a crisis of its own.”

Fortunately, two generous families—Sylvan Herman of Washington, DC, and Ron and Joy Paul of Potomac—have stepped forward to help. Both have had personal or professional experiences that sensitized them to the importance of increasing Suburban Hospital’s capacity to serve this very vulnerable patient population.

Mr. Herman’s $1M donation will fund The John E. Herman Emergency Behavioral Health Suite and The John E. Herman Outpatient Behavioral Health Suite, both named after his late son. The $250,000 gift from the Joy and Ron Paul Foundation will be used to enlarge and expand the emergency behavioral area, as well. Joy Paul has worked as a licensed clinical social worker for more than 25 years and is past president of the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County. (See sidebar.)

Herman knows first-hand the horrible impact of mental illness, not only on the patient, but also on family members. His son was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 18. “We tried to get him the help he needed for 20 years, but the disease proved too difficult and we lost him when he was 38,” he says. “As we struggled, I slowly came to see the reality that you don’t just ‘lick’ schizophrenia. So I decided to look for how we could help people right now, until the day there is a real cure.”

A successful commercial real estate developer, Herman established the Sylvan C. Herman Foundation, whose mission is to help people with severe mental illness. The foundation provided financing to establish ClearView Communities in Frederick, Maryland, a 28-bed residential program providing intensive treatment for young adults. According to Herman, many patients who have used Suburban’s behavioral health services have moved on to programs at ClearView. “In this way, we became aware of Suburban’s challenges and identified how we could help with a complete renovation and expansion of their physical environment so that they could better manage these patients.”

“We greatly appreciate the generosity of these donors,” notes Abby Morris, M.D., medical director of psychiatry at Suburban Hospital. “With these funds, we can create a more therapeutic environment within the Emergency Department, so that we can start treatment immediately for our patients and not just house them. If we can reduce their anxiety, increase their comfort and help them more quickly to develop trust and a better rapport with our clinical staff, then in some cases we may be able to avoid or shorten an inpatient stay.”

“In addition, by expanding the physical footprint for our outpatient day programs, we can better serve those who need this as a bridge back to the community,” explains Rosario Nunez-Brito, M.D., medical director for behavioral outpatient services. These programs can help shorten the inpatient length of stay and in some cases avoid a hospitalization, making beds more available and relieving the logjam in the crisis suite. All of this means potentially better outcomes.”

Grace* thought about suicide constantly. The 45-year-old married mother of two had saved up dozens of pills and planned to take them while her kids were at school. Overwhelmed by sadness, she felt her husband would do a better job of raising them alone. Feeling hopeless and helpless, she believed the only way out of her pain was to end her life.
In a last desperate attempt to save herself and her family, Grace drove herself to Suburban Hospital.
For Grace, and many others like her, there was a happy ending. She was quickly evaluated in the Emergency Department by Suburban Hospital’s Crisis Team and admitted to the hospital’s 24-bed voluntary behavioral health inpatient unit. There, with daily psychiatry visits, social work meetings, therapy groups and medication management, her condition improved. Because she needed a bridge before fully re-entering the community, she was referred to Suburban’s “Partial Hospitalization” program. While her kids were at school, she worked on her mental health, participating with other patients in a group setting five days a week, where she worked through the underlying issues that caused her depression. After a few weeks, Grace returned to her private therapist and psychiatrist, grateful that she had learned to manage her depression and with a new-found sense of purpose.
* Grace is a pseudonym for an actual patient.

FOR MORE INFORMATION | To learn about Suburban Hospital’s behavioral health programs, visit

To access Suburban’s Crisis Services, call the Emergency Department office at 301-896-7315.

To learn about opportunities for giving, contact the Foundation office at 301-896-GIVE.