Nurse Advocates for Patients with Mental Illness

June 18, 2012

by Linda Friedel | Reprinted courtesy of KC Nursing News

Ed Plese said he grew up in a hospital.

The fourth of six children, Plese followed his siblings into hospital food service as teens, then into healthcare as a physician, nurse, and dietician.

"I really like the hospital atmosphere," said Plese, RN, BSN, director of Call Center-COMpas at Research Psychiatric Center. "I was just fascinated with the ability to help - fix people, fix things. It was helping others feel better."

Plese's first nursing position took him into a mental health setting where he said he fell in love with the specialty. He began working in mental health care in 1974, including several years at the VA hospital and 20 years in the Army Reserves.

"I think it was just being able to talk to people," Plese said. "Develop good listening skills hearing their stories. Then help them with stress management techniques."

Plese wears multiple hats in a call center which serves as an intake service unit, around-the-clock resource/referral center and transfer center. He helps nurses make decisions, oversees 20 daily discharges and admissions, helps with 150 monthly transfers, and communicates with nursing staff and physicians. Calls typically cover a 50-mile radius and as far as St. Louis or Springfield, Mo. from family members of loved ones in Kansas City, Plese said. Plese said he focuses on the patients.

"We try to look at customer service and customer focus," Plese said. "We strive for excellence. We're trying to be the top psychiatric hospital in the state and country.

We want to be the best psychiatric hospital."

Plese said throughout his nearly four decades of nursing, he has made an effort to change attitudes in mental health to remove stigmas. He works closely with police departments and emergency rooms and joined forces with National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). In partnership with NAMI, Plese helps to educate the community in mental health.

"We wanted to eliminate the stigma of mental illness," Plese said. "Our goal was to educate the ER staff. Instead of just assuming the patient is crazy, treat them with respect and dignity."

Please said treatment and public attitudes have changed during his career, some leaving new challenges. Thirty years ago, patients with mental illness were able to stay in treatment centers for periods of up to three months, Plese said, allowing adequate time for successful treatment plans of patients with severe persistent mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bi-polar. Once out of long-term treatment, patients can go on to live independent productive lives, he said. However, with the dwindling number of mental health facilities in Missouri, patients often find themselves in a revolving door at emergency rooms, seeking short term interventions, he said.

On the flipside, today's mood-stabilizers are quicker reacting with less side effects, he said and society is more accepting of people with emotional problems, Plese said. Families become part of the plan, he said.

"You have to teach the client to become an expert in their illness," Plese said. "So does the family."

Plese said working with patients in mental health takes insight, intuitiveness and an keen understanding of body language.

"You have to be kind and caring," he said. "You have to be able to recognize what other people other people are feeling."

Plese said when working with a patient who is anxious or upset he has learned to give them space.

"Time is on your side," he said. "Wait it out. They see you're respecting their rights.

Let them calm themselves down."

Carmen Kynard, RN, MSN, FNP-BC, NP-C, MBA, CPHRM, chief nursing officer

Research Psychiatric Center, said Plese received HCA's Frist Humanitarian Award for his extra effort in the field of behavioral health care. She said he has spent countless hours of his own time educating the community, humanizing behavioral health care patients. Kynard said Plese is extremely caring with his patient. She considers him an unsung hero.

"Ed is one of the most empathic individuals I've ever encountered," Kynard said. "It's his quiet crusade. He's a real champion. He's highly knowledgeable."

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