New Directions urges timely treatment for vulnerable patients


We mailed the following letter after attending a Focus Group to improve treatment at Creekwood Mental Health Center in Willow Grove, PA.

November 2, 2011

Laurence M. Merlis
President and CEO
Abington Memorial Hospital
1200 Old York Road
Abington, PA 19001

Dear Mr. Merlis:

On August 22, 2010, Justin Hawkes, a 27-year-old member of my support group, New Directions, took his own life because he could not get an appointment at your Creekwood Mental Health Center. The agony of his depression was so unbearable, he downed a bottle of diazepam.

Since then, I have been on a crusade to work with Creekwood whereby they would implement the “OpenAccess” system of care, first utilized, I believe, by physicians at Kaiser Permanente in California. Under this system, several slots would be kept open per day at Creekwood for patients like Justin who are suicidal or in a severe crisis. Per my enclosed article in the Intelligencer, he was already a patient at Creekwood, but his appointments were canceled or changed and he never got to see the doctor for his all-important psychiatric evaluation and medication.

Creekwood needs a huge push from you, Mr. Merlis. No one else will do. Last time I contacted you, you referred me to Rick Fullam and Dr. Maryanne Delaney, who, sorry to say, do not support me. Please read my comments in my enclosed blog post about a meeting held yesterday at Creekwood.

I’d be happy to schedule a meeting with you, Mr. Merlis, or someone who supports my idea. I have visited the offices of State Sen. Stuart Greenleaf and Rep. Tom Murt, but neither were helpful. You can see my determination.

This is a situation that must change. We owe this to the young businessman and merry prankster that was 27-year-old Justin Hawkes.


Ruth Z. Deming, MGPGP

cc: Ara S. Moonjian, MD, officer of AMH

TWO WEEKS LATER, Merlis wrote me a letter. I read it and threw it in the trash. Nothing will change.


Today, Carole Hodges and I, as representatives of New Directions Support Group, attended a Focus Group at Creekwood Mental Health Center on Commerce Drive in Willow Grove, PA, to give our suggestions on how to create a more responsive mental health center.

Specifically, we were there to improve Crisis Services. Two years ago, Justin Hawkes, 27, a successful working bipolar man who gave the commencement address for his college business class, took an overdose of meds while waiting for an appointment at Creekwood.

His father is the mayor of Hatboro, and his mom works in the school district.

Creekwood kept switching his appointments further and further away and he never got to see a psychiatrist to help with his meds. Read previous post about when the Hawkes and I went to see The County in Norristown about this matter.

This morning I called Creekwood to make sure the meeting was still on. The operator knew nothing about it. She transferred me to Jonathan Morgan, who, later on, walked Carole and me back to the conference room.

It was packed! According to Henry Washington, a certified peer specialist, who ran the meeting, along with Pam Howard from the County (Montgomery County Office of Behavioral Health in Norristown), this was the highest number of participants they’d ever had for such a meeting.

In my opinion, the way the meeting was run could have been improved. When you have a large group – there were about 21 people spread all over the room – the facilitator must include everyone in the room when he speaks and calls on people.

This did not occur.

Since Carole and I sat over by the door, he didn’t pay much attention to us, until I shouted out loud.

The second flaw was we didn’t know who anyone was. Most people there knew each other. Carole and I did not.

Everyone should introduce themselves before they speak.

Carole and I certainly did.

The meeting was scheduled for an hour, from 1:30 to 2:30 pm. At 2 pm, the psychiatrist, Dr. Robin Schorr left, as did other clinicians. I specifically wanted Dr. Schorr to hear our concerns.

It was not a good idea to mix patients in with the “outsiders” like Carole and myself and Tony Salvatore from MCES.

Certainly, the patients should get their time. Absolutely! They have valid concerns. It was a total waste of time for the outsiders to listen to them. They took up approximately 75 percent of the time!


This is similar to if New Directions would hold a board meeting discussing improvements and some of our members spoke about their own personal problems with bipolar disorder or depression.

Sitting next to me was Mary, a woman from NAMI, who has a schizophrenic son who is not doing well. She put him in respite care in New Jersey. I loaded on our resource-packed website under “Treatment.”

I was there to suggest the OpenAccess System of Care, which North Willow Grove Family Practice employs. If a patient has a pressing problem, they will see you the very same day or the next day.

“Creekwood is not a crisis center,” said Rick Fullan, administrative director, mental health and geriatric services coordinator at Abington Memorial Hospital (AMH).

Creekwood is an arm of AMH.

Carol, the mom of the schizophrenic son, said she and her son had waited 10 or 12 hours for service in the AMH emergency room crisis center. He finally walked out. I echoed with a story of my own, where I told the crisis department to carefully monitor a psychotic patient I had brought in, but he “escaped,” walked three hours home, barefoot, and slashed his throat. He lived. I have taken other people to the ER with similarly disastrous results.

This is my experience. Perhaps the ER has improved.


Hi everyone,

Thanks for hosting your Focus Group today at Creekwood. Lots of good ideas were brought up.

Please share this email with the higher-ups at Creekwood! Together, we can figure out how to make changes that will help all of us.

Our main concerns at New Directions are:

– Timely appointments after hospitalization. Carole Hodges, head of our Family Member Group, reports it takes as long as 6 weeks to see the Creekwood psychiatrist for the all-important meds. This is not good for our vulnerable patients.

– Implement phone or intake interviews for signs of suicidality.

– Introduction of the OpenAccess system of care. This means that you will have an OPEN SPOT for someone in a crisis, namely, who is suicidal. Even if you only had ONE SPOT PER WEEK, this would be tremendously helpful.

My own family doctor’s office – North Willow Grove Family Medicine – has implemented this program with great success. In other words, if I have a problem, I could come in THE SAME DAY or the NEXT DAY, and get seen.

In addition, they just hired a nurse who is their Care Manager. She calls every patient after a hospitalization or to see if a problem has been resolved. This is an excellent new service, which Creekwood could also implement.

I do think that Creekwood has the resources right now to achieve this. Some shuffling would be required, but isn’t that what everyone now does in America? Less employees, changing job descriptions?

As Carole Hodges said to me when we left, We planted a seed.

Hopefully that seed will blossom very soon!

Thanks so much for your consideration and for taking action!!!


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