A Promise Kept: The Stephanie Greer Story

A Promise Kept: The Stephanie Greer Story

Stephanie Greer in front of hospital_1200

 

By Josh Jarman

Can you remember the last time you made a promise? Outside of our marriage vows, most of us do not like to think much about promises because they remind us of our past failed personal attempts to watch less television or to floss with more regularity. Despite our best intentions, if given the option to take the easy road or the hard road in life, we all tend to revert back to the path of least resistance.

Stephanie Pate Greer, the Director of Behavioral Health at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS), knows firsthand the danger of complacency. She and her team of nurses, therapists, crisis interventionists and psychiatrists have made a collective and unwavering commitment to always provide high quality behavioral health services in the High Country. For Stephanie, it was a promise made in heartbreak, steeped in love and maintained by her uncompromising resolve.

 

It takes a village

 

Stephanie with her mother Geneva Pate at Pope's Family Center in Newland NC

Stephanie with her mother Geneva Pate at Pope’s Family Center in Newland NC

Stephanie could run the cash register and count back change at 6 years old. It was at her mother, Geneva Pate’s side that she proudly learned the fundamentals of customer service while working at Pope’s Family Center in Newland, NC. In a town with only two traffic lights, she quickly became well-acquainted with everyone in her “Mayberry-esque” community. Between customers she liked to spend her hard-earned wages on peach Nehi and Whatchamacallit candy bars from the neighboring Avery True Value Hardware store.

She also enjoyed spending quality time with her father, Dallas, a retired North Carolina State Trooper, who she considers to be the most influential person in her life. Some of her fondest memories took place in his patrol car, where she was allowed to run the radar detector, wear his trooper hat and just spend quality time with her favorite law enforcement officer.

Stephanie Greer with her father Dallas Pate in front of his patrol car

Stephanie Greer with her father Dallas Pate in front of his patrol car

“While we were ‘out on patrol’ dad also taught me a lot about life,” she shared. “Integrity was very important to my father. He taught me that in this life we are not entitled to anything. But with hard work, we can absolutely accomplish whatever goal is set before us. He also taught me that your word is your bond and that a promise made should be a promise kept.”

Stephanie was named Most Spirited in her high school annual. It was there that she competed in softball, cheerleading, public speaking and in other events as a part of Future Farmers of America, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Future Business Leaders of America and in the Student Government Association.

She credits her zeal for life to her faith in God. “I think it is a normal part of human behavior to mess up from time to time. But when you discover that you have a God that loves you, and literally a village of people like ours supporting you, I think it brings out the best in people.”

 

Mountaintop experience

 

Stephanie with bear cub on Grandfather Mountain

Stephanie with bear cub on Grandfather Mountain

Throughout high school and college Stephanie worked on Grandfather Mountain. It was there that she started in the gift shop and then transferred to the role of zookeeper. In that position, she was tasked to take care of the black bear, cougar, white-tailed deer, golden eagle, and bald eagle habitats.

“Little did I know it at the time, but learning how to change my demeanor to accommodate where I was proved to be great foundational training for the work I do today in behavioral health,” she said. “I’ll never forget the first time I went into the cougar habitat. I was told to expect the 115-pound cat to pounce on me. I was told to face the cougar and to knock the animal back; this would in effect quickly establish who the alpha was in the situation. Sure enough, the cat leapt and I did everything wrong. I turned my back and screamed. I think we all do that at some point in our lives.”

Determined, she went back to the cougar habitat a few days later to face her fears. This time, when the animal pounced, she held her ground – a lesson learned and a fear conquered.

 

Lost and found

 

Stephanie’s interest in healthcare developed after she injured her knee cheerleading and had to endure multiple surgeries followed by physical therapy. Inspired by her own healthcare experience, she went onto Western Carolina University to study recreational therapy.

Her program required a four month onsite clinical internship. Stephanie chose to complete her internship at Broughton Psychiatric Hospital because it was close to home and more importantly close to her parent’s refrigerator.

“I was the first intern allowed to work on the adult acute-care admissions unit,” she said. “I learned quickly that at a state psychiatric hospital you see people at their lowest and sickest points. I also learned that there is absolutely no difference in the human beings in need of behavioral healthcare and you and me save a few circumstances. Circumstances could be life or chemical related, but they are still just circumstances. They are still people. A group of people grossly misunderstood and under advocated for. I had found my passion.”

Stephanie was hired as the recreational therapy supervisor for adult acute-care admissions at Broughton Hospital when she turned 21. Admittedly, it was a big job, and she leaned on her more seasoned staff to help her develop new programs, such as the first treatment mall, a school equivalent for patients suffering from mental illness. During that time, she was promoted several times and she went on to complete her Master’s in Business Administration at Gardner-Webb University.

Her hardest lesson learned however took place one day when she heard screams coming down the hallway of her unit. She raced to find a patient who had committed suicide on her watch. Devastated, she admitted to the patient’s family that despite checking-all-of-the-boxes in terms of safety and therapy, she viewed it as a personal failure. Through tears she made a promise to herself and to that patient’s family that she would never again be satisfied with just checking the boxes.

“By the very nature of working in behavioral health, you know that things like this can happen,” she shared. “But we have to be vigilant to guard against it. We can never be content or complacent. I made a promise that day and I was determined to keep it.”

 

Blind faith

 

After months of mounting pressure from a family friend, Stephanie finally agreed to go on a blind date with Allan, a Boone Police Officer.

“I was so nervous about the whole blind date thing that I made Allan pick me up from my parent’s house,” she said. “He then took me to see a church play, I figured that was a pretty safe first date. We got married a year later and never looked back.”

Fast forward 10 years. Allan had become a State Trooper, Stephanie was well entrenched in her role at Broughton, they now had two children and were “settled” in every sense of the word when she received a call from a headhunter in Arizona to inform her that a Director of Behavioral Health position had opened in Linville, NC. Assuming that she was unfamiliar with the area, the recruiter went on to try to “sell” the mountain community to his client. Stephanie smiled in a moment of serendipitous delight at the thought of returning home to her beloved Avery County.

She was hired for the position at Cannon Memorial Hospital by Carmen Lacey, now president of the hospital and a lifelong friend; and Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO of ARHS.

“I’ll never forget my first day on January 27, 2008,” she said. “It was an ice-storm and everything in town had shut down, but I knew that I had to get to work, especially on my first day by 8 a.m. So we parked my car at the bottom of our hill the night before and I made it in on time, an hour before everyone else. I guess you could say that I was eager to get started.”

One-in-four adults will suffer every year from a diagnosable mental illness. Our goal is to meet these people where they are and to provide them with the care they so desperately need.”Click To Tweet

 

Meeting a need

 

And so it was that the behavioral health department formed at ARHS. Within her first year she reopened a 10-bed inpatient behavioral health unit in the hospital. This unit is fully equipped to provide psychiatric evaluation, medication management, individualized treatment planning and group therapy.

She also revamped outpatient behavioral health services to improve access to adult, child and family therapy. The outpatient program started with 12 patients and now maintains a caseload of more than 1300 individuals from across the High Country.

She then launched the Behavioral Health Crisis Team in 2011. The mobile crisis team is designed to meet and treat patients at whatever point they access the healthcare system. In many cases, the crisis team has saved patients from having to incur costly and unnecessary emergency department visits.

Despite these milestone achievements, the demand for behavioral health services continues to rise in North Carolina. As the only inpatient behavioral health facility within a 40-mile radius, Cannon Memorial Hospital receives more than 5,000 psychiatric referrals from across the state each year. Of those, the hospital is only able to admit an average of 560 patients into its 10-bed inpatient unit.

Stephanie construction

To help meet this need, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) recently awarded Cannon Memorial Hospital with a $6.5 million grant, to expand the availability of behavioral health beds in the western region of North Carolina. The funding for this grant originated from the Dorothea Dix Hospital Property Fund, which was created by the North Carolina General Assembly from the sale of Dorothea Dix Hospital in 2015.

“This grant was an answered prayer for our community,” she said. “Not only does this create an opportunity in Avery County for us to continue to meet the medical needs of the community, but it also allows us to have an opportunity to expand and improve access to much needed behavioral health services.”

After months of careful planning, construction began last month to expand outpatient behavioral health services. Additionally, the grant will be used to create a designated 37-bed inpatient psychiatric unit within Cannon Memorial Hospital.

Thanks to other funding sources, the medical side of the hospital is also getting an upgrade. Once the two-and-a-half year construction project is complete, Cannon Memorial Hospital will operate as a Critical Access Hospital, fully equipped with a state-of-the-art inpatient 8-bed medical unit to meet the needs of the community. In addition to behavioral health services and inpatient medical care, the hospital will continue to provide imaging, laboratory, primary care, surgery, rehabilitation and cardiopulmonary services. This full-service medical campus will continue to serve as the hub of healthcare in Avery County.

“I live less than a mile from here,” she said. “So it goes without saying that it is important for me and my family to have access to good medical services. In a community of our size, it is unheard of to have access to primary care, preventative health and wellness care, behavioral health care and all of our specialty care. It is truly a blessing that I don’t think people in our community fully grasp.”

 

Giving back

 

For Stephanie, everything goes back to that little girl behind the cash register with her mom. At an early age she fell in love with this community and she takes great pride in providing for its needs.

“My hope and prayer is that as we grow our services, the High Country will come to see that these patients are nothing more than our friends and our family members,” she said. “Unlike every other diagnosis, there seems to be a stigma or fear to talk about behavioral health. But the truth is that one-in-four adults will suffer every year from a diagnosable mental illness. Our goal is to meet these people where they are and to provide them with the care they so desperately need.”

In her office you will find motivational quotes hanging on the walls and pictures of her children prominently displayed on her bookshelf. She is proud to share that Zack, her oldest, is considering a career as a physical therapist. And that Reagan “Bob”, her 12-year-old daughter, has her mind set on following in her mother’s footsteps and becoming the next director of behavioral health at ARHS. It is clear to see, that like the rest of us, her children admire their mother’s heart and passion to serve others and have been positively affected by having the opportunity to be nurtured in the same “village” of people their mom did so many years ago.

“I made a promise more than 19 years ago and I intend on keeping it,” she said. “I firmly believe that everyone has a purpose in life.Click To Tweet In this line of work it is not about perfection, it is about progress. We do what we do in behavioral health because we love our patients. It is hard to describe just how blessed I feel to work here and to give back to the very community that has given so much to me.”

Learn more about Behavioral Health services at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System> 

Behavioral Health Therapists

Behavioral Health Therapists

Matthew Ross, LCSW, LCAS

  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist – Associate
  • Schools: Salisbury University in Salisbury, MD earning a BA in Psychology in 1999 and Appalachian State University earning a MSW in 2014
  • Clinician interests: Depression, anxiety, substance abuse & dual diagnosis, relationship between physical health and emotional wellbeing, mindfulness
  • Personal interests: Music, guitar, martial arts
  • Favorite quote: I am strong, because I’ve been weak. I am fearless, because I’ve been afraid. I am wise, because I’ve been foolish. ~ Anonymous

Katie Elder, BFA, MSW, LCSW

  • School: University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Appalachian State University
  • Clinical interests: adolescent and adult individual therapy
  • Personal interests: theatre, cooking, reading, family time, collecting donations for community needs
  • Favorite quote: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”~ T. Roosevelt

Carrie Richardson, MSW, LCSW

  • Schools: Appalachian State University
  • Clinical interests: Crisis intervention, bereavement, psychotic disorders, health coaching
  • Personal interests: Travel
  • Favorite quote: “Allah never changes the condition of a people unless they strive to change themselves” Quran 13:11

Elizabeth (Lisa) B. Shelton, MSW, LCSW

  • Schools: UNC-Greensboro
  • Clinical interests: Health Coaching, Workplace Issues, Grief and Major Loss, Depression, Anxiety, peer relationships, family conflict, aging, and self-esteem.
  • Personal interests: Running, spending time with my family, including Tucker my 4 year old Jack Russell Terrier.
  • Favorite quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”  by Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles
3 ways to warm up the Winter Blues

3 ways to warm up the Winter Blues

Endless grey skies, drizzle to snow mixtures, and wind so gusty you see it coming before it hits you paints a not-so-colorful stretch of winter weather typically found in the High Country. Days of dark, dreary weather have been known to make some folks come down with the winter blues or its more extreme version, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Winter Blues - Seasonal Affective Disorder“The winter blues are fairly common in our area with long winter months and very grey days. The challenge is diagnosing whether a client has a mild case of winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or another form of depression,” says Lisa Shelton, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Director of the Employee Assistance program with Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

Symptoms for the winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) appear to be similar on the onset and may include:

  • Sleep issues (either too much or not enough)
  • Fatigued to the point where it is difficult to carry out daily routines
  • Overeating and/or strong cravings for “comfort foods,” especially carbohydrates
  • Lack of interest in normal activities
  • Social withdrawal

Treatment techniques will determine whether or not the winter blues really are SAD or another form of depression. Shelton recommends a three-step process to clients describing some form of the winter blues.

 

Step one: Exercise

Wellness CenterYes, it’s a verb buzzed about all the time, but all this talk must lead to positive results because doctors, counselors, and other healthcare professionals are always recommending it. And, our area offers the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center, the Greenway, several parks, and sidewalks round about Boone to help you enjoy slivers of daylight during the winter months. A long walk outside helps refresh your senses, and if it is too yucky to go out, a creative solution may be to brighten up your home and do some jumping jacks, run-in-place, or stretches. Any form of exercise will help you warm up the winter blues.

 

Step two: Strive to sleep and rest well

Sleep StudyIf you exercise, you’re more likely to tire yourself out and sleep better. Other considerations include reducing caffeine intake, make an effort to turn off your thoughts (counting sheep is always a popular game), or just simply lying there and resting. If you continue to have trouble sleeping, seek your doctor’s advice and ask if a sleep study is right for you. If you are sleeping too much, make an effort to avoid snoozing past eight hours.

 

Step three: Engage in an activity that gives you pleasure

Art-Therapy-2This suggestion seems simple enough, but people often struggle with time and money to make it happen. However, if you make it a priority, you’re likely to come up with an affordable solution that fits your budget. Popular winter activities may include reading, completing craft projects, sledding, ice skating, or other ideas discovered by talking with friends.

 

 

Be self-aware

“Being aware of your symptoms is so important to getting past the winter blues. We’re most vulnerable when we’re unaware of what’s going on with us. Sometimes sitting down and talking with a trusted friend, family member, or professional, qualified healthcare worker can be very successful in dealing with the winter months,” continues Shelton.

If the above three steps do not seem to help your mood, seek the advice of your doctor or a licensed behavioral healthcare worker. Appalachian Regional Behavioral Health Services offers crisis care, therapy, and psychiatric services if you should need professional help.

 

Treatment

Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may include light therapy, which involves exposure to daylight or a specially-made fluorescent bright light for 30 minutes to two hours a day. SAD can often be confused with other forms of depression, and patients with SAD aren’t usually diagnosed with it until their symptoms can be observed over a period of one or more fall/winter seasons.

Shelton concludes, “The most important consideration is to take the time to make your mental health a priority. People affected by the winter blues or other more serious forms of depression must strive to adjust their routines in order to have success, and the rewards of a happy, healthy mind are well worth the effort.”

Contact Appalachian Regional Behavioral Health at (828) 737-7888 or visit the website


 

For High Country employers: 

Lisa Shelton and staff of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) are available to provide short-term professional help and guidance to all employees and their family members of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System as a part of the system’s benefits program. The EAP is highly confidential and accepts voluntary self-referrals. Additionally, the EAP contracts to provide services for the Town of Boone, Town of Beech Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, Boone Drug, several doctors’ offices, and other organizations throughout the High Country. For more information about EAP, call (828) 263-0121.

A version of this article, written by Koren Huskins first appeared in Carolina Mountain Life Magazine, and is republished with permission.