Sharon Regional's behavioral unit ready to help

Mar. 25—SHARON — If someone is considering taking their own life, it's critical to get them immediate help, Dr. Wally Novera said.

"It averages 90 minutes from the time someone has the suicide impulse to the time they actually do it," Novera said.

A board-certified staff psychiatrist and medical director of the Behavioral Health Department at Sharon Regional Medical Center, he oversees a busy unit.

Of the 700 psychiatric patients hospitalized at Sharon Regional last year, 300 were diagnosed as having suicidal impulses. That covers anyone who had suicidal thoughts all the way up to actually making an attempt of suicide, Novera said.

Located in a separate area of the hospital, the behavioral health unit treats children as young as 5 or 6. As with adults, the children's world got shaken up during the pandemic, when visiting friends and even family members was often discouraged.

"People lost that connection," he said.

Before a patient is formally admitted into the unit, staff assesses their condition, Michele Fuleno, a therapist and the unit's clinical quality director, said.

"We wouldn't admit them unless we felt there was a genuine risk," Fuleno said of a patient who might have suicidal inclinations.

Family and friends can be crucial in getting someone overwhelmed with emotional the right help.

"When you're in a crisis it's hard to think rationally," she said.

With court approval, severe psychiatric cases can be involuntarily placed in a behavioral health unit for up to 5 days, Fuleno said. That can be extended, but only with a court's OK.

Before anyone is released from the unit, staff creates a game plan for them. That plan can include elements, such as where they go to continue therapy, medical appointments and even their housing situation.

There are patients where treatment options include allowing them to go home at night but return to group therapy during the day.

"We want people to know we're here to help them, that they're not alone," Novera said.

And like the hospital's emergency room, the behavioral health unit is open 24 hours a day.

"We always have somebody here ready to help," Fuleno said.

NOTE: The Herald published the beginning of its series on mental health in Mercer County on Saturday. To see these articles go to sharonherald.com.