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“The patients leave hope-filled…”

Emma Dragon is Nurse Manager of MiraVista’s adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit. They joined MiraVista because of the opportunity to greatly influence the culture of the unit in terms of both how care is delivered and how staff are supported in this delivery.

“I was offered the opportunity to build a team from the ground up,” Dragon said. “Hiring the staff, engaging the team and getting their ideas and concepts in terms of what will work has allowed for the creation of a family environment. It is so important for the team to come together and work to create what MiraVista calls ‘Care. Reimagined.’ for patients and to keep staff wanting to come back every day.”

They added being known as a provider of good mental and behavioral health care is important not only to someone seeking access to care, but also in how those receiving such care remember and look back on it.

“Did they feel safe, did they feel connected with staff, were staff focused on them and did they care about them,” Dragon said. “The stories and feelings given in answer to these questions are what people remember many times after and relate to others.”

They said that providing such care early to adolescents with mental illness is “super important.”

“A lot of times this type of inpatient behavioral health care may be their only experience of this level of care,” Dragon said. “Here at MiraVista it enables them to build skills and may be not need this inpatient care again. Sometimes patients come in without stable role models throughout much of their childhood and here on the unit staff could end up being that one adult they connect with and will remember into their adulthood as someone who really helped shape them.”

Dragon thought about a career in health care at a young age.

“I was in Girls Scouts growing up and I did a number of my award projects on First Aid,” they said. “This got me interested in health care.”

Dragon worked in Emergency Medical Services before getting an associate’s degree in nursing from Springfield Technical Community College and then her bachelor’s from what is now the Elaine Nicpon Marieb School of Nursing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Dragon also holds a graduate degree in emergency and disaster management.

Through family associations around psychiatric and substance use health needs, Dragon had an early awareness of the behavioral health system. Their background as an emergency room nurse for 15 years put into practice their clinical training and innate compassion for those with mental and behavioral health diagnoses.

“Behavioral health is everywhere, and we would see conditions related to it in the ER,” Dragon said. “I would be frequently delivering a lot of the care line to these behavioral health patients in the emergency department, and I enjoyed it, and it felt meaningful.”

They served for a period in 2017 as a nurse manager for the child and adolescent unit at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital which closed in 2020. Dragon was invited by MiraVista’s leadership to join their team when MiraVista opened in the former Providence building in April 2021 and began plans for an inpatient psychiatric unit for children and adolescents 6 through 17.  MiraVista plans to open a unit for youth ages 6-12 in the spring of 2023.

They described a “huge” difference in the confidence of the adolescent patients who leave the unit after the cognitive and dialectical therapy and skill-building given.

“The patients leave hope-filled and regulated in terms of self-care,” Dragon said. “Sleeping, eating and a lot of those basic needs we take for granted and have the ability to do can stop when someone is suffering with the symptoms of mental illness.”

They added that “we see patients who might have come from being overwhelmed by the most minimal task or even interaction with someone to being able before they leave to give tours of the unit to new admissions, welcoming them, and helping to lead community meeting for other patients and being role models for new arrivals.”