Recent donations to Georgetown University Hospital of over half a million dollars will be used to advance the creation of the Center for Mental Health Outreach, an extension of hospital services geared toward providing mental health services for at-risk social groups requiring improved health resources.

According to a press release, $500,000 from the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation will be donated over the next four years to support mental health services for the elderly. An additional $25,000 gift was donated by the O’Keefe Foundation of Ocean Springs, Miss., to hire an executive director for the program.

Dr. Steven Epstein, interim chair of psychiatry at GU Hospital, noted that while plans for the center have been in the works for only about six months, the hospital did not anticipate such rapid developments. “You can’t implement a program without support,” he said. “The donations will allow us to implement them sooner.”

The Center will focus on mental health services for the elderly, young parents and adolescents – three groups that the center feels are often overlooked in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems. Providing services to the underprivileged and to minorities who are frequently underserved in terms of mental health services will also be important to the Center. It plans to improve programs already at work and develop new initiatives.

“We plan to link with existing programs that provide mental health care for the community,” Epstein said.

The Center will expand upon its existing educational program for adolescent depression and mental health. The original program was developed by faculty at Johns Hopkins University in conjunction with Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association. DRADA is a support organization for depression and manic-depressive illness sufferers and their families. As a non-profit group, DRADA supports research and self-help programs for these illnesses.

New programs in the works include Parents Care, an initiative to help young parents suffering from anxiety, stress and depression.

A large portion of the Center’s efforts will be toward services for the elderly.

Diagnosis and treatment of depression, Alzheimer’s and other illnesses common in older Americans will be provided by coordinating its efforts with community programs.

Epstein said the center will be an active community presence that will be easily accessible to the patients. An important mission of the center will be to make sure everyone has access to mental health services, regardless of income.

“Our primary model will be to provide these services free of charge,” he said.

In light of the recent donations, plans for the development of the center have been stepped up and though no predictions are available for when it will be opened and functioning, Epstein said the funds will speed up the process considerably.

“The next steps will be to hire an executive director and to hire a geriatric specialist,” Epstien said.

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