A new facility in Charlotte aims to fill a glaring hole in mental health treatment. HopeWay Foundation is designed for patients who are well enough to leave the hospital but not quite ready to go home. The first few patients moved in recently to receive ongoing, comprehensive care for mental illness.
HopeWay is on a 12-acre wooded campus in south Charlotte. You wouldn’t know it’s a health care facility at first glance, from the outside or the inside.
"This is the entryway to our residential wing," CEO Dr. Alyson Kuroski-Mazzei said recently while giving a tour. "Folks who come here have a primary mental health issue, whether it be bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, generalized anxiety disorder. They can stay here overnight. We have 24/7 medical and nursing care in this building. And we'll show you one of their bedrooms."
There are 36 bedrooms. Residents will get their own. They’ll also get a variety of treatment from a care team that includes psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. The typical stay will be 30 to 45 days.
Dr. Ken Dunham leads behavioral services for Novant Health and is on HopeWay’s medical advisory board.
"The idea behind it, the central idea, there’s nothing like it in North Carolina or really in a couple surrounding states," Dunham says.
There are two things that set HopeWay apart. One is its focus on mental illness. There are residential facilities for substance use disorders, and HopeWay will have people with dual diagnoses. But the primary reason people are here is a mental health condition.
Second is the role it plays in between a psychiatric hospital and life back home.
"HopeWay, I think, fills that gap," says Kate McAllister, assistant director of Mental Health America of Central Carolinas, an advocacy group.
She estimates there are only 10 to 15 facilities playing a similar role in the entire country.
McAllister points out people can transition within HopeWay, from being a full-time resident to getting services during the day and heading home.
"When I am ready for the next step, I have that same team," she says. "I don't have to go see a new set of doctors just because I'm at a different level now."
With residential and day care, HopeWay can treat a total of about 90 patients. CEO Kuroski-Mazzei is a psychiatrist who treats some patients herself. They started arriving in late November, and there are about 18 now. The idea is to ramp up slowly and be at capacity by the end of the year.
It can cost around $25,000 to stay for a month. But Kuroski-Mazzei says HopeWay is trying to bring that down.
"We are working currently with all of the insurance companies to get contracts that are in-network, so folks can utilize their health benefits," she says. "We also have a very robust financial aid program. We're encouraging all clients to apply for financial aid, which will then assist in their treatment cost."
The facility accepts private insurance but not Medicaid. Staff haven't turned away anyone for financial reasons so far.
HopeWay raised $27 million from individual donors, foundations, Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health. The hospital systems are partnering with the facility in other ways too.
Martha Whitcotton is senior vice president of behavioral health at Carolinas HealthCare.
"Most of the time when people have their first break with psychosis, they're somewhere around college age: late high school, early college age," she says. "You can imagine the incredible value of being able to have residential treatment service to negotiate that first transition back into the world"
Whitecotton says HopeWay has the potential to help people learn to live with their illness, and in doing so, prevent a cycle of future crises.