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River Community Wellness Program celebrated

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — Two seems to be the magic number for the River Community Wellness Program.

The program took two years to come together, and within its first two months it is operating at full capacity, serving 10 active-duty soldiers, according to speakers at a Tuesday ribbon-cutting celebration at the program, on the 4 Fuller St. River Hospital campus.

Because of the program’s early success, River Hospital also may have a second section by summer’s end if it is successful in finding other funding.

Chief Executive Officer Ben Moore III said that while the hospital had to put up $400,000 to start the program, services are reimbursed by Tricare, the insurance company that serves active-duty soldiers.

“Yesterday was River Hospital’s 10th birthday, and we can’t think of a better way to start the next decade,” Mr. Moore said Tuesday.

River Community Wellness Program opened Feb. 19, providing intensive outpatient mental health services, including group and art therapy, and yoga and Pilates for active-duty military personnel.

The River Community Wellness Program is referred to by Bradley Frey, program director, as the first of its kind in the country.

As a partial hospitalization program, it focuses on intensive and enhanced therapy services, but leaves the option open for inpatient services at Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown; Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg, or Holliswood Hospital, Queens.

Holliswood partnered with River Hospital to bring the program to the north country.

Mr. Moore said that if it were not for that partnership, which included help with recruiting professionals and preparation for opening, River Hospital would not have been able to bring the program here.

Soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress, anxiety, other stresses or substance abuse are referred to the program by Fort Drum officials.

The average stay for each soldier is three to six weeks, but Mr. Moore said some soldiers have extended their therapy to about eight weeks.

The goal is to help soldiers transition from inpatient treatment to community-based care.

“These young men and women have seen the absolute worst combat has to offer,” said Mr. Frey, who spent 25 years serving in the Army. “They are not forever broken.”

Mr. Moore said providing the service close to home for Fort Drum soldiers is one way the north country can help make soldiers’ care easier, since they serve our country for us.

Col. Mark W. Thompson, commander of Fort Drum’s Army Medical Department Activity, said the opening of the program shows that it truly takes a community to care for soldiers.

“We can’t say thank you enough,” Col. Thompson said.

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