WENATCHEE — Russell C. Fritz, 50, sits on a patient exam table at Catholic Charities’ new clinic.
The tissue liner crinkles under Fritz as Physician Assistant Casey Wyatt and Fritz’s mental health case manager, Bianca Ramirez, ask questions about his insomnia.
“It’s about the same,” said Fritz, who suffers from mental health problems that include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and being bipolar. “I still wake up from pain and the occasional flashback. It hasn’t improved yet.”
Fritz, who was released from prison in December for the third time, is being treated at the clinic for both his mental and physical well-being. This is the first time, he said, that he’s taken medication to manage his mental health challenges. It’s part of his attempt to stay out of prison.
Catholic Charities and Columbia Valley Community Health in early January opened the new integrated-care clinic at 415 Worthen St., called Hope Healthcare. It is located just beneath Catholic Charities’ offices.
Integrated health care involves treating a person’s whole body, both physically and mentally, Physician Assistant Wyatt said. A lot of people’s physical symptoms can derive from mental conditions and vice versa.
“When someone is having a physical or a mental symptom, it is really hard to differentiate what the root cause is,” said Wyatt, who is a primary care provider with no specific training in psychiatry. “So you need experts on both sides of it.”
Integrated health care is a new trend nationally, he said. A lot of health care centers are bringing mental health specialists into their hospitals and clinics. But this is the first clinic inside a mental health center in the Wenatchee Valley.
“So instead of a case manager taking off their entire morning to take someone over to my clinic in East Wenatchee, they can do three or four visits with their people a day,” Wyatt said. “There is a lot of synergy.”
Catholic Charities has provided mental health services for people in the Wenatchee Valley for 33 years, said Susan Marney, Catholic Charities health care services supervisor. It offers a variety of assistance such as therapy and case managers who assist individuals with daily chores and their prescriptions. Anyone can apply for treatment through Catholic Charities.
The organization employs 12 case managers who assist 50 clients each, she said.
Ending the cycle of incarceration
During the exam Fritz tells Physician Assistant Wyatt about his back pain. It was so bad the day of the clinic visit that he wasn’t able to tie his shoes.
Fritz works at Crunch Pak doing general labor, he said. He’s thankful for the job and can’t worry about the physical labor right now.
“It is part of the job and it is a part of my life now so I don’t have any choice in the matter,” Fritz said.
Fritz is readjusting to life after being released from prison on Dec. 13 for first-degree burglary and third-degree assault. He attacked and injured his step-dad.
“Every 10 years I had a cycle of going to prison,” Fritz said. “I’d get my life straightened out and then my marriage went south on me. A few years after my separation I was back in prison again.”
His mental health was complicated by marijuana and alcohol abuse, he said. He thinks he was using the substances to manage his mental health problems.
After this last stint in prison he decided he wanted to change, Fritz said. About 15 months ago, while still in custody, he started taking anti-psychotic medication and avoided illegal drugs.
“Being sober is pretty important,” he said. “It is something I strive for every day.”
Fritz now lives in a halfway house in Wenatchee. He still struggles with little thingslike setting up his phone voicemail,and is adjusting to life outside of prison.
Fritz said he knows he isn’t out of the woods yet. He is still working to manage his own life and to get society to accept him again.
“Every time I see a homeless person I’m grateful that I have a job and a roof over my head,” he said. “I could have been one of those people that are homeless and struggling with addiction and medication issues.”
Primary care and mental health
Another concern for Wyatt during the exam was Fritz’s weight, Wyatt said.
Fritz is about 100 pounds overweight. It’s pretty typical for anti-psychotic medication to slow a person’s metabolism and cause weight gain. It can sometimes even lead to diabetes.
Balancing a person’s physical health with their mental state, though, is what this integrated approach is all about, Wyatt said. Making sure patients receive the best quality of life possible.
“He’s to the place where we would like to see a lot of people get,” he said. “Just to have a regular job and their biggest problem is their back pain and their weight, like the rest of us.”