Medical Center, School hiring clinical psychologist

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 9:15am

The Block Island Medical Center is adding a licensed clinical psychologist to its staff beginning in September.

Dr. Peter Oppenheimer will work two days a month on the island with his services being shared by the Medical Center and the Block Island School. The annual cost will be $26,000, split evenly between the Medical Center and the school.

During his Medical Director’s report at the July 23 Block Island Health Services board meeting, Dr. Mark Clark requested the board’s approval for funding to hire Dr. Oppenheimer. Clark cited a need for the psychologist’s service as part of a behavioral health initiative with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the school. In response, the board unanimously approved the funding and hiring of Oppenheimer. 

“The goal would be to hire a full-spectrum-practice person, who can treat adults; who can treat substance abuse; who can treat children with learning disabilities at the school,” said Clark. He noted that Oppenheimer would be available to conduct “support sessions” via telephone or Skype when he is not working on the island. 

Clark said the school has “allocated” $13,000 to fund the service, terming it a “shared expense. What I’m asking the board to consider is that we find the $5,000” to fund the service from September to January of 2018. The board approved Clark’s suggestion to use $13,000 from a recently received Rhode Island Foundation grant to fund the psychiatric services in 2019.

‘We are going to try and bill for these services, but I realize that getting reimbursed is really tricky,” said Clark. “So we’re not counting on that.” He said the new program would be approached in the same manner as the Medical Center’s physical therapy program. “Whether it will sustain itself, or not — we won’t know until we try,” Clark said.

Board member Bob Greenlee asked Clark if the school would evaluate the program on an annual basis. Clark said the school didn’t stipulate if, or how, it would evaluate the program.

“I think the school is thrilled about adding this new program,” said Clark. “It’s something that they needed. They love the integration with the Medical Center. It answers a lot of problems. They didn’t tell me if they want to do this year after year, but my impression is that they would.”

Board member Pat Doyle, who also sits on the School Committee, suggested the board meet with the school committee and school administration. 

“I would love to see a sit-down, so it’s carefully delineated as to who can be referred for the service so we don’t get ourselves into trouble down the road.” Doyle said that would be helpful in fostering the overall “vision” for the school’s budget.

“I’d like to see a little more conversation regarding definition, as to who does what,” added Doyle.

Clark said more conversation would be helpful, and that there is “a concrete job description” that was created by both the school and the Medical Center. The school has “defined their needs,” and “we have a layout for how the program will work.”

Clark told The Block Island Times that Oppenheimer “holds a masters of education in school psychology and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Virginia. He has been in group private practice serving children, adolescents, adults and families with psychological assessment, psychotherapy, family therapy and consultation since 1994. He is currently the Director of Professional Affairs for the Rhode Island Psychological Association and also the Chair of the Rhode Island Primary Care Physicians Corporation Behavioral Health Network.”

Oppenheimer told The Times he was “excited about the opportunity to work with the Block Island community at the School and the Medical Center. After being full-time at my clinical practice in Barrington for nearly 25 years, I am excited about the opportunity to reconnect part-time with my roots as a school psychologist and for the opportunity to implement some of the Rhode Island based integrated care strategies we have been developing on the mainland over the past several years. I look forward to getting to know everyone and learning my way around the island.”


In other news, the BIHS Board unanimously approved Clark’s request for funding up to $6,000 for enclosure of the facility’s dumpsters at the back entrance. 

“The entrance is used daily by patients and staff,” Clark noted in his report.

“Where is the money coming from” to pay for that, asked Medical Center CFO Terri Chmiel. 

“Good question,” said Property Management board member Ray Torrey. “I don’t know whether the town pays for that. Sometimes Sam (Bird) surprises me, and says, ‘We’ll pay for that.’” Bird is the Town of New Shoreham’s Facilities Manager.

“It’s not an emergency, so I don’t see them paying for that,” said Chmiel.  

“It will be a deficit,” said BIHS Treasurer Pete Tweedy. “The bottom line is going to be that it came out of our savings.”

Despite that, Tweedy said that Clark’s report was “a fabulous report. The context was just awesome. This shouldn’t stop here. This information needs to be public. It will tell the public what we’re doing up here” at the Medical Center.

In his report, Clark noted that the Medical Center’s visits for June were up from 535 visits a year ago to 619 this year. Year-to-date total clinic visits went up from 1,919 in 2017 to 2,261 in 2018. Some of the topics Clark touched on were wellness/risk reduction, tele-health services, women’s health, behavioral health, clinical care feedback, education and community outreach, building security, and IT and broadband.

On the good news front, Chmiel told The Times that the Medical Center “raised $52,000” at its Annual Summer Gala fundraising event held at The Sullivan House in July. “The board and fundraising committee raised $52,000 this year compared to $44,000 in 2017. Attendees totaled 265.”

The next BIHS board meeting is Monday, Aug. 27 at 7:30 a.m. at the Medical Center.