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.

Dr. Ranum set to join UNMC faculty

Erin Ranum, MD, will join the UNMC faculty as an instructor this summer in the growing geriatric division.

“We’re very happy to be joined by Dr. Erin Ranum (on August 17)! She has a longstanding relationship with the geriatric psychiatry division and will bring her enthusiasm and great patient care skills to our group,” said Dr. Steven Wengel, Geriatric Division Director for the Department of Psychiatry.

Dr. Ranum graduated from UNMC and has spent the previous four years as a resident with the UNMC/Creighton Psychiatry Residency program.

“I’ve always felt at home (at UNMC), more than any other university I attended or did my training,” Dr. Ranum said. “When I started thinking about where I wanted to work after residency, it was an easy decision to stay here.”

Dr. Ranum also holds an undergraduate degree in nursing and worked as a nurse at a nursing home and an aide at an assisted living center.

“I loved working at the assisted living center, and the geriatric population has always been my favorite to work with,” she said. “They tend to be more complex medically. Also, they have different psychosocial stressors than younger adults, such as declining independence with increasing disability and losing social supports as they age due to the death of loved ones. This combination is interesting and challenging to me and makes my work feel meaningful.”

Dr. Ranum said she decided to specialize in psychiatry after her rural family medicine rotation.

“I realized on that rotation that I would rather sit and talk with someone about their depression than any physical complaint. Those patient encounters seemed more meaningful to me.”

 Along with working with the geriatric population, Dr. Ranum will work with future doctors as a member of the UNMC faculty. She said she wants to give students and residents meaningful experiences in the field of psychiatry.

Dr. Ranum said she’s excited to remain in Nebraska after her residency ended in July.

“I moved to Omaha for medical school and stayed here for residency, so I’ve been here for eight years. In that time, I got married, had a couple of kids, and bought a house with a yard so I could get a dog. Omaha has become home, so it played a role in my deciding to stay here,” she said.

Dr. Sheehan named new Clinical Chair of Ethics Committee

Psychiatrist Meghan Sheehan, MD, said she’s honored to have been named Clinical Chair of the Ethics Committee at Nebraska Medicine.

“Medical ethics is a longstanding passion of mine. I enjoy the collaboration of a diverse group of colleagues, including ethicists, lawyers, administrators, patient advocates, and healthcare professionals in this important and challenging work,”

Dr. Sheehan arrived at UNMC last summer after working and training at UNC Health Care. While as a psychiatry resident and consult/liaison fellow at UNC, Dr. Sheehan worked within the Ethics Committee and the Complex Care Committee.

“I was inspired early on by two of my mentors at UNC, Gary Gala, MD, a trauma surgeon turned C/L psychiatrist and ethicist, who is now the Vice-Chair of Psychiatry and Co-Chair of the Ethics Committee at UNC. As well as, Arlene Davis, JD, BS, an attorney and the director of the Clinical Ethics Services at UNC,” Dr. Sheehan said.

Dr. Sheehan will work with Jacob Dahlke, the current Chair of the Ethics Committee. Dr. Sheehan calls Dahlke, “UNMC’s talented clinical ethicist.” Dr. Sheehan will be serving as Co-Chair with Carlie Leslie, RN. Leslie will act as Administrative Chair of the Ethics Committee.

“We will continue to work closely together with Jacob and the committee members to serve the needs of UNMC and Nebraska Medicine on every level, from direct patient care to the development of institution-wide policy,” Dr. Sheehan said.

As an assistant professor and C/L psychiatrist, Dr. Sheehan has become well-acquainted with complex ethical challenges.

“This is a natural role for a C/L psychiatrist, and I am glad that Meghan will be representing our department in this important position,” said Dr. Howard Liu, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry.

Additionally, Dr. Sheehan will be working with outpatients in reproductive psychiatry and psycho-oncology.

Joining the ethics committee during the COVID-19 pandemic adds additional ethic challenges.

“We will continue to try to meet those challenges as leaders of healthcare ethics at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine,” said Dr. Sheehan. “While this crisis is the predominant priority of the healthcare system and Ethics Committee, the imperative to meet the needs of UNMC and Nebraska Medicine as a clinical, educational, organizational, research, and business entity remains. In addition to these services, one of my personal goals as the Clinical Chair is to bolster the committee’s educational service and further develop the Ethics Grand Rounds and the Schwartz Rounds.”

Dr. Claudia Moore begins addiction medicine fellowship

Claudia Moore, MD, has worked in emergency medicine for twenty years, and it was two decades in the ER that pushed her to apply for the UNMC addiction medicine fellowship.

In July, Dr. Moore became the second addiction medicine fellow. From 2006-2020, she worked at Nebraska Medicine in emergency medicine. From 2013-2019, she was the Program Director for the Emergency Medicine Residency Program.

“I’ve had a lot of experience seeing people with substance use disorders in the ER. When I learned that the fellowship was being developed, I became immediately interested,” said Dr. Moore. “It seemed a natural pivot for my career – using everything I’ve learned through my emergency medicine and medical toxicology training to care for patients in a new way.” 

Before arriving in Omaha in 2006, Dr. Moore worked in hospitals and clinics in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Memphis.

“No matter what city, substance use was a factor in a tremendous number of cases. I’ve seen what happens in acute intoxication or withdrawal, and now I can see what happens after the emergency is over,” said Dr. Moore.

The addiction medicine fellowship lasts one year. Knowing 12 months can fly by quickly, Dr. Moore has tried to hit the ground running.

“I know I only have 12 short months to learn a new specialty, so I’m trying to cram as much learning into every experience as possible. My previous roles have included a lot of medical students and resident education; I now get to use all the lessons I’ve learned about what allows a learner to be successful and apply it to my own education,” she said.

Dr. Moore graduated from Emory University in 1996 with a degree in Art History and Biology. She attended the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis in 2000 and finished her residency at LSU Health Science Center in New Orleans in 2004. She completed a fellowship in Medical Toxicology at Emory/CDC/George Poison Center in 2006.

Gearhart accepts new role as Ambulatory Supervisor in Department of Psychiatry

Phoebe Gearhart, RN, has been named Ambulatory Supervisor for the Department of Psychiatry. In Gearhart’s new role, she will provide direct supervision to the nursing staff, primary care technicians (PCT), medical schedulers, and Behavioral Health Connection staff. 

“This position excited me as it is an opportunity to work with our team to help people grow in the department,” Gearhart said. “It allows me to help our teams strengthen and grow and allow me to understand our clinical staff’s strengths and skills.”

Gearhart started as a registered nurse at Nebraska Medicine in December 2015. She was promoted to Nurse Lead within the Department of Psychiatry outpatient clinic in August 2018.  That same year, Gearhart was named a 40 Under 40 Nursing Leader.

“This promotion is testament to Phoebe’s outstanding leadership and her creative approach to problem-solving,” said Dr. Howard Liu, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry.

In 2020, as the psychiatry department has grown, there have been many hires to the clinical staff. In Gearhart’s new role as a supervisor, she has tried to meet with the new team – not an easy task during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It is exciting how much our department has expanded, and I look forward to learning about our new staff’s skills that they are bringing to our team. Everyone has been through many new challenges and changes since COVID-19 has emerged, and everyone has accepted this new change in roles with much outreach of support. I believe the transition itself has been relatively smooth, but I attribute this to the wonderful staff and leadership,” Gearhart said.

Gearhart sits on several department committees that deal with clinical, education, and service priorities at UNMC.

“Phoebe’s promotion is much deserved, and I know she will do a fabulous job,” said Maggie Milner, BSN, MSW, Clinic Manager for the Department of Psychiatry.

Psychiatry staff helps local charities

In May 2019, the Department of Psychiatry volunteered at three local non-profits as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic made on-site volunteering difficult, so staff members found other ways to help out.

Here is a list of some of the donations of time and money from psychiatry faculty and staff:

  • The clinic at the Department of Psychiatry donated $250 of snack items to the nurses at Douglas County Long-Term Care units who were working long, hard hours due to the spike in the pandemic, particularly in poor and elderly patient populations.

  • The adult and child and adolescent division nurses donated the money that would have purchased their Nurse’s Week appreciation flowers ($300) to purchase hygiene products for our clinic’s on-going hygiene item donation drive. Celeste Akers, Community Service Tech Lead, and Bonnie Dollen, LPN, helped with the deliveries.
  • The geriatric division nurses donated their flowers to be delivered to the nurses who work at the Douglas County Long-Term Care units, since they were dealing with a ton of stress/workplace hazards from COVID-19.
  • The Department of Psychiatry raised $585 to buy hygiene products to donate to Heart Ministries Center’s pantry. 
  • The Department of Psychiatry raised $530 and a box of fruit to donate to the YES House (Youth Emergency Services) shelter and food pantry.  Research Assistant Arica Lerdahl, IOP Social Worker Christine Hoffman and Akers ordered deli meals and food items from Hy-Vee to be delivered to YES homeless youth clients to supply three days of meals. “We’re very grateful for your support,” said YES Executive Director Mary Fraser Meints. “You helped us feed many youths and their households.”

  • Members of the Department of Psychiatry participated in NAMI’s Annual NAMI Walks virtual event fundraiser.  The NE Med team, led by PES Manager Jennifer Sparrock, LICSW, raised more than $1,000 for NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness). 

  • The Department of Psychiatry raised $570 to donate to Charles Drew Health Center to show support for the work they do with helping underserved residents of North Omaha get health care, mental health care, and social services.

Spotlight: Bonnie Dollen, LPN

Bonnie Dollen graduated from nursing school at Iowa Western. She has worked in cardiac care, vascular, surgery, family medicine and now psychiatry. She has been married for 28 years and has four kids, including triplets.  

What are your job duties?

I listen and support patients in need. I do whatever I can to help them and keep them safe. I also provide education to our patients and staff. I am the facilitator for Reproductive Psychiatry.

 Why did you choose psychiatry?

I think psychiatry chose me. I have been providing mental health support my entire nursing career. When I was in nursing school I was the Unit Secretary on Psychiatry at Jennie Edmundson. I believe I have come full circle as I plan to end my nursing career here in psychiatry when I am old enough to retire.

What do you enjoy about working at Neb Med/UNMC?

We are truly a family not just co-workers. If one of us needs anything there are always people to help. I have made some amazing friendships that have lasted thirty years!

 You do a lot of volunteer work. Why do you find time to volunteer?

I feel I am very blessed and I feel I should give back to those who may not be. There can never be too much love and compassion in the world! I also feel that I get back much more than I give when I volunteer. I am a volunteer Pastor for the Intellectually Impaired and my own congregation when needed. I volunteer for NAMI and Fragile X (our 3 boys have this). I volunteer with Christmas drives. I volunteer for Ducks Unlimited to preserve the environment and habitat.

What are some of your hobbies?

Reading, listening to music, deer hunting, hiking, crafts, cooking, and just being me!