Skip to main content

Sugar House Journal

Mental health treatment increases during pandemic, says hospital director

Jun 11, 2020 12h40 ● By Kirk Bradford

By Kirk Bradford | [email protected]

“The field of mental health has transformed over the past decade,” said James Reichelt, director of St. Mark’s Hospital Behavioral Health unit. Reichelt has worked at the prison, jails and the Fourth Street Clinic before arriving at St. Mark’s.

The City Journals interviewed Reichelt to gain a better understanding of mental health and how it has changed in response to COVID-19.

“You may have noticed its effects on the homeless population,” Reichelt said. “They function much like a family unit in the sense they look out for each other and sometimes sleep near each other for safety. The homeless shelter recently had a large spread. It’s affecting their lives in how they adapt to social distancing or even lacking access to health care. They no longer can live the way they were, in the same way you and I can’t.”

He discussed the different stigmas attached to someone who struggles with substance dependency resulting in homelessness and how important it is to break those stigmas.

“I try to train my staff to come from a place of love and compassion,” he said. “You don’t know what that person has been through that leads up to being in one of our care units.”

Years ago, this wasn’t always the approach. It was more of a tough love approach.

“Just last week, we had a patient on our floor; they checked him in at 3 a.m. and needed some blood work and other things, but (he) was detoxing and finally getting some rest,” Reichelt said. “The old thinking was to get him up and required moving to a separate area to have it done. I told my staff to let him get some rest, and first thing in the morning let’s take care of it. Another time, we had a patient who had lived with his brother. The entire family was engaging in behaviors dependent on substance abuse. The brother had gotten verbally aggressive with our staff, and the thought was to have security remove him, but we didn’t; we realized that he worried for his brother. We assured him his brother was OK and let him spend a few minutes with him. It’s slight changes like that, that allow us to build trust for someone to open up and get the help they need.”

St. Mark’s Hospital has three main divisions: Inpatient Psychiatric Unit, Intensive Outpatient Program and Perinatal Outpatient Program.

Reichelt said inpatient and outpatient units are the starting point to helping a person get stabilized. It’s most common to be detoxing from drugs and/or alcohol that many start using to self-medicate an underlining condition.

“Once we get them stable, physically, mentally and medically, we find the most appropriate program,” he said. “This depends on their needs, their symptoms and their insurance if they have it—even those who do not have insurance. We help them get stabilized and with enough medication upon release to get into treatment.”

The St. Mark’s mental health unit has the capacity for 17 people. Before COVID-19 struck, they were seeing on average nine people per day. Afterward, Reichelt said, “We are seeing on average 13 people per day; we can’t share a room if we go over now because of the requirements to stay safe from spreading the virus. I’ve seen substance abuse issues rise and the need for both inpatient and outpatient treatment rise.”

Reichelt expressed St. Mark’s desire to help.

“We understand how difficult that phone call is to make, for someone to reach out and ask for help,” he said. “If someone is thinking about doing it, please keep in mind the goal of staff on all aspects of mental health including the first call is to start from a place of understanding because it takes courage and strength for someone to call us and we know it. Throughout the state now, we are also seeing more and more telehealth. We can do assessments over the phone and point someone in the right direction closest to them. The curious thing about this pandemic is we are seeing more and more people who want to change; they want to feel better. They want to get through this pandemic and to deal with all the stressors and anxiety, which can be difficult, but if they can get the tools to do it, they can get through it with some sense of joy and happiness. Sometimes, that takes getting a little help.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, Reichelt said to call and do an assessment and see what the options are available. Call St. Mark’s at 801-268-7433. You can also find more information online from the National Alliance on Mental Illness at also contains resources to learn more online.