A new space for healing opens up Monday, Nov. 18, at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Hospital of Superior. It will house the Adult Partial Hospitalization Program — outpatient group therapy for adults ages 18 and older with significant mental health concerns.

The program has been offered in Duluth for more than 25 years, serving about 300 patients a year. The Superior program opened in June, offering a closer option for Douglas County residents.

“Nationally, 1 in 5 Americans experiences a mental health condition each year, but less than half will seek treatment,” said Eleni Pinnow, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Douglas County. “Hopefully, having a program like this will encourage people to seek treatment, even if they don't need a Partial Hospitalization Program.”

The holistic program covers many aspects of life, from behavioral health needs to nutrition, physical activity, sensory needs, medication monitoring and even art therapy.

“It really is all-encompassing,” said Katherine “Kat” Brunette, rehabilitation services manager for Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital of Superior.

It is also intense — six hours a day, four days a week for three weeks. About 50 people have gone through it since June, some from as far away as Ashland. The majority of them were struggling with anxiety and depression.

“It’s really remarkable to see what patients can do in three weeks and how much better they come out of it,” Brunette said.

Patients can be referred by a health care provider or call the main line themselves and self-refer.

“It’s a direct avenue to get the help that they need,” Brunette said.

The new space, created with funding from the Essentia Health and Miller-Dwan foundations, was built with healing in mind.

“This program offers people with more serious symptoms and who are struggling an opportunity to recover in their own community,” Pinnow said. “Recovery from mental illness is possible, but people need tools to be able to be successful in their recovery and ongoing maintenance of their mental health. A program like this will offer intensive intervention and will provide people with tools to manage and sustain their recovery.”

It’s a step in the right direction, Pinnow said. It brought five additional practitioners to the Superior medical facility and is breaking down stereotypes.

“I think it’s been really eye-opening to staff here as to who participates in this program. Sometimes it’s working professionals; it’s parents, it’s your neighbor. It’s not the person that you see on the street that you would paint as the picture of mental health,” Brunette said. “This is really meeting a need of the community that may be very underserved because they’re afraid to ask for help.”

Essentia has contracts with most insurance carriers, including Wisconsin Medicaid payers. Numerous patients with Wisconsin Medicaid plans have attended the program. The time commitment may seem like a barrier for some people, but Brunette enouraged people to reach out if they need help.

“A lot of times we can find a solution to the barriers keeping them from seeking services,” she said.

'It’s OK to get help'

Amy Sullivan has always been the "strong one." With a background in pastoral training, the Superior woman has sought to care for and empower others. This August, as 10 years of accumulated stress came to a boiling point, Sullivan was the one who reached out for help from the Partial Hospitalization Program.

“My message to people since then has been 'It’s OK to get help and it’s OK to know that you need help,'” she said. “If we don’t take care of ourselves first, we can’t take care of our loved ones.”

The stress came in many forms. At age 43, Sullivan had her husband, Bob, had an unexpected miracle baby. When their son, Liam, was 8 months old, Bob Sullivan was diagnosed with cancer. They battled cancer for the first three and a half years of Liam’s life.

When he began attending Head Start, Liam was diagnosed with autism. In 2017, Sullivan’s father died after contracting a super-bug. Her mother went through surgery in 2017 and again in 2019. A toxic neighbor began harassing Sullivan. When they left, she said, drug dealers moved in. Add in sleep deprivation from menopause.

“Everything just came to a boil,” Sullivan said. “I’m 50 years old and I crashed and burned.”

She was anxious and uptight all the time. Her son was having meltdowns and nightmares. Her marriage was rocky, she’d lost her spiritual bearings and felt empty.

Prompted by her husband and friends, she went to an Essentia nurse, who suggested the Partial Hospitalization Program.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew I had to do something,” the Superior woman said.

The program provided holistic care and a foundation for moving forward.

“People were there to learn how to cope in healthy ways; healthy effective ways of dealing with whatever life throws at us, and life is always throwing stuff at us, it doesn’t stop,” Sullivan said. “It’s how we react to it and what we choose to do with it that matters.”

Other members of the group were dealing with similar losses and situations.

“The biggest thing I have learned is that we are not alone,” Sullivan said. “Everybody struggles with something. We don’t go through life alone; we’re not meant to go through life alone. You can reach out because somebody is always going to be there somewhere to help.”

She’s grateful that she made the decision to join the program. It's improved her marriage and she's seen her son thrive.

“I feel like I’m a different person because of it. I’m stronger, I’m healthier; I’m happier. I love being 50 and where I’m at in my life,” Sullivan said. “I got my sense of the holy back.”

The Superior woman has been sharing her story, both online and at church, in the hopes that it will help others who have mental health struggles. There’s a lot of stress in the world right now, she said.

“People are highly anxious. People are depressed. Suicide rates have increased. You have a lot of struggling people out there and they don’t know how to say ‘I need help,’” Sullivan said. “I want to be that person to say it’s OK. You can get the help you need and it’s out there. And it’s OK to talk about it. We need to talk about mental and spiritual health.”

For more information about the Adult Partial Hospitalization Program, call 715-817-7188.