UNMC Psychiatrists split time with Community Alliance

UNMC psychiatrists Riley Machal, MD, and Melissa O’Dell, MD spend much of their clinical time with the ACT team at Community Alliance.

Community Alliance is a mental health agency which offers a wide array of services geared toward helping adults with serious mental illness thrive in the community, including Omaha’s only ACT team. ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) is an interdisciplinary, team-based model of care for adults with serious mental illness, and often co-occurring substance use disorders, whose needs cannot be met in traditional outpatient care settings. 

“In ACT we place a strong emphasis on recovery-oriented, strengths-based and person-centered approaches to care. As a team we interact with our clients multiple times per week in a variety of community settings.” Dr. O’Dell explained.

Following the January 16, 2020 death of Community Alliance full-time Psychiatrist Nathan Bruce, DO, Dr. O’Dell was asked to fill his vacancy as the ACT team psychiatrist.

“Anyone who knew Dr. Bruce will tell you his shoes are impossible to fill, but having had the benefit of working under his supervision at ACT for two years, I was better prepared than most to step into the role,” said Dr. O’Dell. “For the first few months, with the team and our patients acutely grieving Dr. Bruce’s loss, me only being able to devote two days a week to what is really a full-time position, and then the onset of the coronavirus pandemic forcing us to throw everything we do into a new risk-benefit calculator, it was an uphill battle for the team to regain its footing and get back to providing the high level of care our clients need and deserve.”

In August, Dr. Machal joined UNMC and the ACT team. Dr. O’Dell she was thrilled to have Dr. Machal join the team. Dr. Machal said it was an easy decision.

Drs. O’Dell and Machal share clinical duties, which include seeing patients (sometimes in their homes), providing education and support to the team, crisis intervention, overseeing the treatment planning process, and supervising residents.

“ACT is the most intensive treatment patients can receive while out of a hospital or partial hospitalization setting,” Dr. Machal said. “Having an ACT team available in Omaha allows for more people to stay healthy with fewer hospitalizations.”

Dr. O’Dell said she’s excited to welcome several new Creighton residents to the team: Dr. Rebecca Leval, Dr. Amanda Emmert, Dr. Ruben Solis, Dr. Geoffrey Allison, and appreciates the continued dedication of Dr. Rocky Esteraich, PGY-4.

Nursing grant will bring mental health care to rural communities

Members of the Department of Psychiatry will use part of a $1.5 million grant, acquired by the UNMC College of Nursing, to make mental health services accessible for vulnerable adults and children in rural and urban Nebraska communities.

The grant will establish partnerships with two primary care clinics to provide services to underserved populations — those who are at a disadvantage due to economic, medical, or geographic barriers, including minorities. Advanced practice nurses — psychiatric nurse practitioners — will work with teams of family nurse practitioners and other health professionals at each clinic. Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who diagnose, treat, and manage illness and prescribe medications.

Department of Psychiatry Nurse Practitioner Leigh Cook said it’s been a department goal to provide needed services to communities without large numbers of mental health professionals. UNMC will use $500,000 of the grant on getting mental health services to rural communities, such as Ravenna, Nebraska, population 1,369.

 “The (Ravenna) clinic is just getting started, and they are very excited to provide mental health services,” Cook said. “It’s groundbreaking to have this type of health care in a small community. And it’s not just people who live in Ravenna, who we will be able to get help. We expect to pull people from miles away. Previously, it’s been rare that a rural area could provide something like this.”

The Ravenna Clinic is part of Heartland Health Service.

The grant does not just provide services for rural communities. The three-year project, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is partnering Nebraska Medicine’s Internal Medicine clinic in Omaha. The clinics also will serve as a training site for the education of nursing and students enrolled in mental health specialties at UNMC, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and other institutions.

“While there are different settings, both urban and rural populations see similar challenges,” said Maggie Emerson, APRN, PMHNP-BC, Advanced Practice Workforce Director, Dept. of Psychiatry. “Along with providing mental health services, we have a goal to train and facilitate on-site management to help their patients.”

Another goal is to build partnerships with area public schools to develop a support system for mental health screening and counseling or referral for individuals from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The grant is titled “Increasing Access to Integrated Behavioral and Primary Care Services Through APRN-Led Teams.”

Dr. Emerson is an Assistant Professor at UNMC College of Nursing. She specializes in the implementation and delivery of integrated behavioral health modalities. Her work has expanded into exploring the use of mobile apps in these settings to meet the needs of the underserved.

Dr. DeLizza joins UNMC faculty

Child Psychologist Ali DeLizza, PhD, joined the UNMC Department of Psychiatry faculty as an assistant professor on Sept. 1, 2020.

Dr. DeLizza grew up in Plano, Texas and earned her master’s degree and PhD from Western Michigan University. She moved to Omaha two years ago after accepting an internship at the Munroe-Meyer Institute. In 2019, she joined UNMC as a Post-Doc Clinical Psychology Fellow. Dr. DeLizza said it was an easy decision to apply for a faculty position in the Psychiatry Department.

“I always knew I wanted to stay here,” she said. “I love the culture of this department. It’s exciting to see how (Department of Psychiatry Chair) Dr. Liu values psychologists and wants to build a psychology division.”

Dr. Liu calls Dr. DeLizza a skilled CBT and ACT therapist who understands the big picture for families in need.

“Dr. DeLizza is also a passionate teacher on wellness issues for students and providers and a gifted communicator of mental health wisdom to the media. I’m personally thrilled to have her on my team,” said Dr. Liu.

Dr. DeLizza credits Carolyn Black Becker, PhD, ABPR, for her passion for psychology. Dr. DeLizza took Intro to Psychology as a freshman at Trinity University and loved it.

“I realized how much I loved doing research, working with people, and studying how to help them be their best,” Dr. DeLizza said.

Dr. DeLizza’s therapy interests include adolescent depression, anxiety, OCD, and working with LGBTQIA+ youth.  Additionally, she’s part of the Wellness Division with Dr. Steven Wengel and Dr. Kati Cordts.

When asked what her favorite part of being a psychologist – clinical, education, research, wellness – Dr. DeLizza answered “all of it.”

“I want to do it all. That’s a major reason I became a psychologist,” she said. “There’s so much to do in psychology and lots of ways to collaborate with others. I consider myself first a clinician, but I enjoy educating and training students.”

Ryan Cordts joins UNMC as Business Operations Manager

What are your job duties as business operations manager for the UNMC Department of Psychiatry?

My current roles include managing administrative staff, creating the MD PES schedule, and managing contracts and RVU reports for all clinical providers. In addition to assisting with department financials (e.g., travel request approvals, expense approvals, budgets, salaries, billing and invoices, account reconciliation), I’m helping with new employee oversight, faculty recruitment processing, facilities management, and providing research and education support.

What made you apply with the Department of Psychiatry?

Before entering the field of academic medicine, I worked as a financial analyst for a commercial real estate company, which gave me a strong foundation in business operations and finance. When my wife (Dr. Kati Cordts, UNMC Psychologist) and I relocated to Omaha, I knew I wanted to continue work in business and finance, but felt it would be a good time to explore other industries. Prior to UNMC, I worked at Creighton in Gastroenterology and Infectious Diseases. I had a positive experience at Creighton and really enjoyed working in hospital administration. When the position at UNMC opened up, it seemed like the perfect opportunity, both personally and professionally. There has been rapid growth within the department and across UNMC and Nebraska Medicine and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

What have you been working on during your first few months?

Much of my time has been spent getting to know the ins and outs of the department, as well as our staff and operations within the department. Because I started during the pandemic, I’ve met people gradually. I’ve really appreciated people’s willingness to poke their head in and introduce themselves when they stop by the office. One of my first major tasks was to update RVUs and create the PES schedule. Both of these things were major undertakings, but they really helped me get to know people and the various divisions within the department. I knew psychiatry was a large department when I started, but I’m continually amazed by the breadth and depth of clinical services, educational and training experiences, and research projects.

Who has helped you settle into your new position and what have they done to get your prepared?

The administrative staff has been incredibly helpful in getting me up to speed on department operations. I have learned so much from the team, and I have enjoyed learning about their respective roles and responsibilities. I look forward to working with the administrative staff to develop processes that will increase efficiency, communication, and reduce response time.

What are some of your hobbies?

As a native Kansan and a huge sports fan, I love cheering on the Kansas City Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks. I’m very active and enjoy spending time outdoors. I like to run and hike, and thanks to the pandemic, my more recent hobbies include gardening and lawn care.