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River Community Wellness celebrates 1st anniversary

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — River Community Wellness has a lot to celebrate for its first anniversary today.

Throughout the past 12 months, 93 active-duty soldiers have graduated from the program and learned techniques to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s really an attempt to change a way of their thinking and letting their brain know there’s not a threat,” program director Bradley Frey said. “We focus on core symptoms of PTSD: hyper vigilance, isolation and feelings of anxiety. We try to teach adaptive coping mechanisms.”

River Community Wellness provides intensive outpatient mental health services, including group and art therapy, and yoga and Pilates for active-duty military personnel. Soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress, anxiety, other stresses or substance abuse are referred to the program by Fort Drum officials.

Program participants spend five hours a day, Monday to Friday, for three to six weeks with the program, but they may receive additional, individual treatment if needed. Mr. Frey said few soldiers have returned for an entire second round of treatment.

River Community Wellness is the only program of its kind in the nation, as it also has an inpatient hospital component, if soldiers need such intensive treatment. Its goal is to help soldiers transition from inpatient treatment to community-based care. Mr. Frey said word about the success of the program has spread so quickly this past year that it now receives referrals from active-duty soldiers hospitalized for mental health reasons in Texas and New Jersey, among other states.

“It’s a big deal for River Hospital,” Mr. Frey said. “The administration is very supportive; they like the fact we’re serving people who’ve served us.”

In addition to the soldiers, the program has served 115 community members, according to a recent hospital news release.

The program took two years to come together, and within its first two months was operating at full capacity, serving 10 active-duty soldiers. There used to be a consulting contract with Holliswood Hospital, Queens, but that hospital has since closed.

Today, the program serves 26 soldiers daily, with the capacity to serve four more. With no consulting contract with another hospital, if a soldier needs inpatient treatment while going through the program, Mr. Frey said, Fort Drum will coordinate that referral.

Staff also has been built up to two psychiatrists, five therapists, an art therapist and Mr. Frey.

River Community Wellness is a program of River Hospital, 4 Fuller St. The hospital had to put up $400,000 to start the program, but services are reimbursed by Tricare, the insurance company that serves active-duty soldiers. In 2013, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, secured $185,000 in special funding to be split between River Community Wellness and the Pfc. Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program for Veterans, based at 247 State St., Watertown.

Mr. Frey said the community also can support River Community Wellness by donating journals, stress balls or magnetic stones, all of which are used to help soldiers deal with anxiety. For more information, or to set up a referral, call 482-1277.

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