People are ending up in crisis situations due to a lack of early mental health care.
By BECKY GILLETTE
Lindsey Blevins, LPC-MHSP-S, spent the early years of her career working with children in crisis in the juvenile justice and foster care systems. She provided the children with an assessment before being placed in a psychiatric hospital.
A native of Wisconsin, Blevins earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Human Development from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2005. She received a master’s degree from Concordia University Wisconsin in Counseling in 2009. After graduating, she was ready to leave the cold winters of Wisconsin behind and came to Memphis to work for Youth Villages.
During her time at Youth Villages, she spent time providing trauma therapy to children in foster care and residential treatment, completing crisis assessments, and several years managing the specialized crisis program for West Tennessee.
Her work with Youth Villages required her to be on call 24 hours per day, which was difficult with two young children at home. So, in 2017, she started working at Lakeside Behavioral Health System, which operates the largest freestanding psychiatric hospital in the country.
“They have 365 beds,” Blevins said. “I loved working there. I started in business development and community relations, working with schools, law enforcement, businesses, churches – really anyone needing education about mental health or substance abuse. I talked about how to gain access to treatment and how to help loved ones and co-workers manage whatever was going on. As I transitioned into this role, I felt my skills were having more impact by helping people help other people. It seemed like it was having more of a ripple effect. So, I really enjoyed that position and that role.”
She transitioned from business development to administration becoming chief operating fficer of Lakeside. She worked there from 2017 until March of this year when she was chosen to become CEO for Crestwyn Behavioral Health in Memphis, an 80-bed acute psychiatric in-patient hospital for adults.
Memphis, like most other areas of the country, is experiencing a shortage of mental healthcare professionals. Blevins said outpatient mental health is definitely struggling with people encountering months-long wait lists to see a therapist and even longer to see a psychiatrist.
“There is a massive shortage of psychiatrists in this area,” Blevins said. “Luckily, we do have some psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, but the wait list to see psych NP is sometimes several months. Accessing outpatient services in general is a struggle, and that leads to an influx of people needing inpatient care. More people are ending up in a crisis situation because they can’t access care before it gets to the point they need hospitalization, which is really sad. That is where the need is coming from for our planned 48-bed expansion. We are about to break ground on that, and it should be done close to the end of 2024.”
Blevins thrives on the challenge of managing 200 full- and part-time employees.
“The workforce has changed a lot in the past three or four years with Covid,” Blevins said. “A lot of our direct care staff left during Covid. People’s mindsets have changed about working in healthcare. We are constantly hiring people and trying to keep people, and the other psychiatric hospitals are doing the same thing. You have to get creative about how you engage people and create a culture where people want to stay and work. We try to do fun activities to get people involved and feel like this can be a place where they want to work.”
Part of the Crestwyn philosophy is making sure they are providing individualized patient care. Chronically mentally ill patients have been going through treatment for years. Those coming in for the first time, particularly working professionals with medium to high economic status, hesitate to seek out treatment and are reluctant to participate with group therapy—which is a big part of inpatient and intensive outpatient therapy.
“When people come in, they often don’t want to talk in a group,” Blevins said. “We really push them because once they do it, once they start sharing, and other people start sharing, it is a huge eye opener. You realize you are not the first person dealing with this. It is really empowering for them to have that sense of community even if it is short lived. You get strength from the group. At times it can be more helpful than individual therapy.”
Blevins said they are definitely seeing an uptick in the use of fentanyl; there are a lot more accidental overdoses and deaths because of it.
“Fentanyl use also is often linked to mental health issues, domestic violence and economic issues related to not being able to maintain a job,” she said. “It is very sad.”
Healthcare workers, first responders and others who work in high-stress jobs can sometimes turn to substance abuse for relief. It is important people find the more appropriate coping skills that work for them.
“I think that is why education about the resources for patients, their families and friends is so important,” she said. “We partner with local hospitals to educate them and their patients on the resources out there. Crestwyn is a joint venture partner with Baptist Memorial Healthcare.”
Blevins and her husband, Dustin, have been married for 10 years, and have two boys. Cooper, 9, and Carson, 7. They live out in the country on 27 acres and spend a lot of time outdoors with their sons.
“I have done a lot of research on screen time and how it affects youth mental health,” Blevins said. “Because of that, my kids don’t play video games. There are plenty of adults addicted to phones and social media. But for kids, especially, too much screen time definitely scares me.”
Their sons love Legos, and the family recently went to LegoLand in Florida. A LegoLand trip to California is planned in the future.
“Most of our trips are family adventures,” she said. “My family is from Wisconsin, so we go up there several times a year. They have a good time.”