River Place Behavioral Health reopens Intensive Outpatient Program

Published 12:53 pm Saturday, April 22, 2023

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LAPLACE — Counselor Ashley Figarola has seen firsthand how a group setting can help individuals struggling with mental health issues realize they are not alone.

The recent reopening of River Place Behavioral Health’s Intensive Outpatient Program addresses a need for localized mental health services. The return of the program was celebrated with an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony on April 20 at 500 Rue de Sante in LaPlace.

The intensive outpatient program involves therapy three times a week for about three hours per day, including breakfast and a break for lunch. The IOP program most commonly serves individuals with diagnosed anxiety or depression but may also be helpful to those with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or early onset dementia. According to Figarola, manager of the IOP program, some clients have used intensive outpatient treatment while coping with grief and loss.

Figarola has always had compassion for geriatric patients, especially after taking care of her grandmother and her aunt. Being a good listener made her a natural fit for a career in counseling, and she looks at each patient as a whole to help them understand they are more than their diagnosis.

“What I find really neat is when someone comes in and they have been struggling with depression, and someone else says ‘I feel that way, too’, it’s the first time they don’t feel alone…It’s like a family. A lot of times, these people don’t have a good support system. When they have that connection and that support, they finally feel safe to share how they really feel. It’s a safe space for them,” Figarola said. “I’m big on focusing on the person. A lot of times with mental health there is so much stigma and misconceptions. Your diagnosis defines a piece of your life, but it’s not all of you.”

Most patients participate in the intensive outpatient program for 20 weeks. However, this will vary depending on insurance and an individual’s demonstrated need for treatment.

“Whenever someone completes the program, I like to do a graduation so the class gets to say what they’ve appreciated hearing from that person, and the client gets to say what they’ve gained from the program,” Figarola said.

The outpatient program is currently offered to adults ages 18 and older. According to River Place Behavioral Health CEO Dustin Thiels, the goal is to eventually expand the IOP to include adolescent and substance abuse tracts.

The outpatient program allows River Place Behavioral Health to meet a more diverse range of mental health needs in the River Parishes. The hospital includes 104 beds, offering in-patient care for adolescents as well as adults with acute and non-acute symptoms.

“We are open 24/7, 365 days a year, and we offer assessments to see what level of care a patient needs,” Thiels said.

If a patient in the IOP needs a higher level of care, help is available right around the corner in the same facility. Likewise, some individuals may move from inpatient care to the outpatient program.

The IOP was started in 2021, shortly before Hurricane Ida devastated the hospital and the region. Attempts to restart the program in early 2022 were unsuccessful with staff still displaced and many shelters and group homes across the region unable to send in referrals while rebuilding from the storm.

Thiels said it was necessary to bring the IOP back to River Place to ensure mental health care is accessible to all.

“It’s important because there are limited resources in a place like LaPlace. A lot of our patients doing have their own vehicles, so if they wanted to get to an IOP they would have to go to Baton Rouge or inner-city New Orleans for those services,” Thiels said. “By serving this area, we are giving back to our community.”

For more information about River Place Behavioral Health’s Intensive Outpatient Program, call 985-444-5164 or 985-444-5272.