Staying connected

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Robyn is more than a number; she is more than the measure of her weight and temperature, BMI and potassium levels. At 20 years of age, Robyn has been battling her eating disorder nearly half her life. After three months in the eating disorders program at The Credit Valley Hospital, Robyn is on the road to recovery and she says “this has been one of the best experiences ever.”

Robyn was discharged from another hospital’s eating disorders program at the age of 14. She was not successful and speculates part of the problem was that: “Everything was about a number – my patient number, my weight and my BMI whereas here, I feel like a person. They care about me and respect me here. I feel like I’ve really discovered who I am. The group setting is amazing; you can just tell that they care about each other and they care about me too.”

Having completed the intensive inpatient portion of the program for eating disorders at The Credit Valley Hospital, Robyn has only begun the long journey toward recovery. She is confident she’ll do well this time because of the transition portion and ongoing support of Credit Valley’s day hospital and aftercare programs.

Dr. Randy Staab, medical director of the eating disorders program and Terri Marques, coordinator of the eating disorders program beam with pride when they recall the rapid ramp-up and relatively recent launch of this program considering the positive results they’ve seen thus far. The program, which serves an 18+ client population at Credit Valley is one of a handful of facilities for the treatment of severe anorexia, bulimia nervosa and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS).

Credit Valley’s program consists of cutting-edge therapy. The approach is emotion-focused – a new approach in the eating disorders field. “Credit Valley is on the map in the eating disorders field,” says Dr. Staab. The program, which incorporates the most recent evidence-based care for eating disorder patients, is attracting international attention for its novel approach. A health-care facility in London, England is already seeking to learn from Credit Valley’s approach.

What sets Credit Valley’s program apart is the continuum of care from the moment of diagnosis. Patients who have been referred by a family physician and are on the waiting list for a consultation are invited to attend a group to familiarize themselves with the process and the approach of the program. This ‘staying connected’ approach starts the care of potential patients from the outset.

“We welcome and encourage these patients to attend sessions to learn about the program even prior to diagnosis,” says Dr. Staab. This approach is what patients like Robyn recognize and appreciate. Patients feel the program is very accessible and can drop in to learn about the program which helps to alleviate the anxiety of those who would otherwise be ‘waiting for the call.’

“It’s just so different here. When I started the program here, Dr. Staab sat down to have lunch with us. It felt so normal because he was actually eating the exact same food as us, even though he doesn’t have to. And it’s not like he asked me ‘so, what’s your lowest weight?’ I think he asked me what was my favourite movie!” she recalls fondly.

There’s no doubt that the program is challenging. Regular food intake is the most important medication. Gentle behaviour modifications are incorporated in a therapeutic environment that supports healing and recovery. The intent of the program as stated in its vision statement is to is ‘to develop an alliance and trusting, therapeutic relationship with our clients in a safe, contained, caring, and non-judgemental atmosphere.’

Following funding approval, the team, which was assembled in March, underwent intensive training in April and received its first patient in May of 2007. The program provides specialized treatment and care delivered by a multidisciplinary team of staff consisting of medical and psychiatric physicians, nursing, psychology, social work, dietitians, and occupational therapists.

The program components consist of an intensive treatment (inpatient), to a less intensive intervention (day hospital program) to an even less intensive outpatient aftercare program and finally to a once a week and/or community based aftercare program. Patients move seamlessly through the components maintaining the relationships they’ve developed with each other and their caregivers along the way.

Terri Marques is most proud of the fact that Credit Valley’s program offers a psycho-education program for families. A recent session held for a full day on a Saturday was attended by more than one-hundred family members – family members who came to learn more about eating disorders, do’s and don’ts and strategies to support their loved ones who were struggling with the mental illness.