“There is a remarkable place in our frenzied, hectic world where struggles to persevere through normal life circumstances are guided by extraordinary staff members, all of whom exemplify the utmost skill and compassion in helping to care for individuals suffering from mental illness. These ‘angel’ caregivers lovingly assist these special individuals in meeting their daily struggles with incredible courage, tenacity, and grace.
Quite unpredictably, I became a personal witness to the miracles that happen on a daily basis at Southeast Iowa Behavioral Healthcare Center (SEIBHC, formerly Dave’s Place) in Keokuk, Iowa, when my brother, Tom, became a resident there in January 2018. Tom’s 10-month stay at SEIBHC will forever remain embedded in my mind for many profound reasons. To enlighten you about how I came to feel this way, I would like to share our family’s experience, in order that you may have hope, especially for those of you who may currently feel only hopelessness and despair regarding the future of your loved one with a mental illness.
In explaining how we came to learn about SEIBHC, it is necessary to share some of Tom’s personal history and his struggle with mental illness, namely, schizophrenia. Sadly, Tom had suffered from schizophrenia for nearly 45 years at the time we finally became aware of the wonderful services offered by SEIBHC.
Throughout Tom’s struggle with mental illness, he had been hospitalized countless times in numerous mental health facilities in Illinois and Iowa. When he could no longer safely live on his own in his home state of Illinois, we brought Tom to live near our family in Iowa in 2003. Although Tom did undergo several hospitalizations throughout the next 15 years, we were able to assist him in living successfully in our community, helping him to purchase a home, find a job, and experience a life of his own, filled with joy, loving family relationships, and supportive friendships.
In the fall of 2017, Tom’s mental health underwent a steady downward spiral, which became increasingly concerning to all who knew him. To say that we were greatly worried about Tom at that time is an understatement.
Throughout the next three months, Tom was in and out of our local hospital’s emergency room and mental health unit countless times. His last hospitalization lasted seven weeks, towards the end of which we believed we were without options for his future. We knew Tom could not stay in the hospital indefinitely, and he could certainly no longer live on his own, even with our support and that of the home care assistants we had employed prior to his final hospitalization. We wondered, what would become of Tom?
In the past, there had been times when Tom had spent a few weeks staying with us, or sometimes, my husband or I would spend the night with him at his house if we were concerned about his precarious mental health and safety. As time went on, and as the effects of Tom’s mental illness became progressively worse, it became increasingly apparent that my husband and I could no longer keep up this schedule because we were both still working full-time and caring for other members of our family.
About the time that we had nearly given up all hope, one of the social workers who was an employee of the mental health unit where Tom was hospitalized told me about SEIBHC in Keokuk, Iowa. She told me that this facility was an intermediate care facility for persons 65 and older with a mental illness. I wondered, could this possibly be our answer? I immediately contacted SEIBHC’s Admissions and Marketing Director, Arlean Rockhold.
After driving many hours to meet Tom at our local hospital’s mental health unit and spending a lot of time visiting with him, Arlean, along with Michelle, SEIBHC’s Director of Nursing, met with me to tell me that they would accept Tom into their facility. When Arlean broke this news to me, I was so flooded with relief that I cried tears of gratitude, filled with renewed hope for Tom’s future.
That same day, Arlean met with me for a very long time, patiently and compassionately answering every single question I had, never once losing her patience or looking at her watch, as I kept fearing she might. She wanted to make sure that I knew that Tom’s successful transition into SEIBHC’s facility was every bit as important to her as it was to me and my family. Throughout the next week, Arlean also took a lot of time explaining to Tom what to expect, encouraging him to rest assured that she and her staff would be there to help him every step of the way as he began the process of settling into his new home, which was several hours away from our family and the city he had come to know as his home for the past 15 years.
On their way to pick Tom up, Arlean and Michelle traveled several hours to our city on a blustery January Sunday afternoon, unexpectedly getting caught in the middle of a snowstorm and becoming stranded that night in a local hotel. When it was safe to travel the next day, I sent my beloved brother, along with his most cherished belongings (including his oversized big-screen TV), with Arlean and Michelle to his new facility, knowing that this was the best option for Tom. I remember very clearly that day telling him, “This is the first day of the rest of your life,” and I prayed very hard that it would be a good life for Tom. Although I knew in my heart that this was the best possible option for Tom, it was also one of the hardest days of my life, sending my brother to live so far away from our family, since we had been his main caregivers for so many years.
Although I missed my beloved brother terribly, I need not have worried about his care. During the next 10 months, Arlean, Michelle, and their very skilled, compassionate staff went out of their way to ensure that their facility was a place of restoration and stability for Tom. His journey to wellness was greatly assisted by their facility’s 24-hour nursing and physician coverage, on-staff dietitian, and wonderful array of activities, the most important of which, in Tom’s viewpoint, was a weekly Bible study class. Whenever Tom felt anxious or insecure, SEIBHC’s well-trained, compassionate staff was there to provide reassurance and security to Tom.
When he became well enough, Arlean went out of her way to help us in our desire to move Tom to the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, Iowa, which is two and a half hours closer to us. It was Arlean who drove Tom to meet us as we all toured the V.A. Home in the fall of 2018, and Arlean is the one who personally delivered Tom and his cherished belongings there on the day that he became a permanent resident of the Iowa Veterans Home. I know without a doubt that it was through the assistance of the wonderful staff at SEIBHC, who helped Tom every day in making such progress in his journey to wellness, that he was allowed the opportunity to move closer to home and family. Tom and Arlean are very close and stay in contact to this day.
As our family’s story exemplifies, we cannot adequately express our sincere and everlasting gratitude to the administration and staff at SEIBHC. Their support allowed my beloved brother to experience the restorative healing he needed to be able to look forward to a future filled with hope, joy, and faith that he will be able to live a meaningful life for many years to come.
For those of you who may feel that you are out of options or who may have lost hope, rest assured that there is an extraordinary place which offers compassionate, skillful care and support for your loved one with a mental illness. At Southeast Iowa Behavioral Healthcare Center, there are truly ‘angel’ caregivers working around the clock to ensure that miracles really do happen every day.”
– Sherry Greteman