North Side Christian Health Center amps up behavioral health services
Photo: Dr. Cathy Sigmund, second from left, and Cindy Loughman, second from right, at the Feb. 7 ribbon cutting and open house for the renovated North Side Christian Health Center in Historic Deutschtown. The center earned a federal grant in the fall of 2018, which went toward turning the third level’s open floor plan into offices for individual and group psychotherapy sessions.
An open house on Feb. 7 gave Northsiders a chance to check out the new behavioral health services offered at North Side Christian Health Center.
Story and photos by Ashlee Green
One in four people in the U.S. lives with mental illness, according to the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania (MHAPA). North Side Christian Health Center (NSCHC) Executive Director Cindy Loughman knows it’s a problem, especially with the vulnerable populations that often come through the Center’s doors.
“The need is great. The wait for mental health services can be months,” she said. “When you’re dealing with mental health, ‘months’ really isn’t an option.”
NSCHC, described on their website as “an anchor in Pittsburgh’s economically challenged and socially depressed North Side,” has provided primary care health services to patients since its start in 1993. Thanks to a federal grant for “several hundred thousand dollars,” Loughman said, which they received in the fall of 2018, they are now amping up their behavioral health services and will be integrating them into primary care. They held an open house and ribbon cutting on Feb. 7 to introduce the public to their remodeled space and a few of their providers.
“We applied for the grant and got the money and then the real work started,” said Loughman.
They hired Dr. Cathy Sigmund, who retired as a professor from Geneva College to take a job as a psychologist at NSCHC, plus three part-time counselors. Leger Construction Inc. renovated the third floor, which previously had an open floor plan, into offices to make them more welcoming for both individual and group psychotherapy sessions. NSCHC also began contracting with a company called InSight to offer telepsychiatry services such as psychiatric evaluations and medication management via videoconferencing.
Historically, Loughman said, telepsychiatry, which is paid for by the minute, has been used in rural areas. It’s also been used at the Sto-Rox Neighborhood Health Council with “excellent” results.
Additional avenues for the grant money NSCHC received will go toward conducting analytics and building reports on the results of the Center’s new offerings, translation services, virtual reality (VR) therapy, and renovating the dental office, which is located in the basement.
Rev. Rock Dillaman of Allegheny Center Alliance Church (ACAC) led the blessing and invocation for the ribbon cutting ceremony, asking that people who are “mentally imprisoned by past pains” will be led to NSCHC, and that the Center’s staff members and services will “lead many to freedom and holiness.”
Loughman is hopeful about the future scale of patient care at NSCHC.
“If you’re a primary care doctor and… a patient [is] following up with you because they’re diabetic… and you know when you evaluate them that they have some mental health needs—some behavioral health needs—but you have nowhere to turn to meet the need, and you know you probably can’t be successful with them managing their blood sugars if you can’t get their behavioral triggers under control, I think [NSCHC Medical Director Dr. Matthew Yu] said it best when he said they feel helpless. They really feel helpless. So hopefully this is the end of that.”
NSCHC’s main office is located at 816 Middle St. in Historic Deutschtown. They also have a smaller clinic at Northview Heights, located on the ground floor of the senior high rise. For more information about NSCHC, visit www.nschc.org.