Pittsburgh Mercy clinics are located in the South Side.Although open to anyone, Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center focuses on mental health patients.

In 2015, McAuley Ministries awarded a $125,000 grant to expand and enhance women’s services at the clinic. Subsequently, Carlow University and Pittsburgh Mercy have partnered in the program; faculty provide care while students receive preceptor training.

A Pittsburgh Mercy Behavioral Health clinic across the street often refers patients.

“Patients are often referred by caseworkers and other behavioral health specialists,” says Deborah L. Mitchum, DNP, director of Carlow’s Master of Science in Family/Individual across the Lifespan Nurse Practitioner program (MSN-FNP).

Mitchum is the clinic’s nurse practitioner, specializing in women’s health.

“I’ve seen women who have never had a gynecological exam before,” says Mitchum. “Women who are psychiatrically impaired won’t walk into a practice for care just anywhere. Some of them really have special needs. Here, they are accompanied by caseworkers, who make their appointments, watch over them, and make sure they get their prescriptions filled.”

Two Carlow students joined the clinic’s team over the summer of 2016, supervised by Mitchum, in fulfillment of their MSN-FNP degree requirements. They were exposed to gynecological care, contraceptive counseling, and cervical cancer screening.

Carlow student Danielle Williams praises the clinic’s work to connect behavioral health needs with primary care.

“Women’s care is not easy,” says Williams, who worked at Allegheny General Hospital for six years. “Breast exams and pap smears are uncomfortable. The nursing model is holistic and helps to put women at ease, providing health care that is more like a partnership.”

Kristy Cloonan completed a rotation alongside Williams. A working mother of three, Cloonan is employed by UPMC Passavant Hospital. She expects to finish her MSN-FNP in 2017.

“It’s important for a woman to understand the how’s and why’s of her body, which are rather complicated. I like being able to advocate for and teach people how to take care of themselves,” Cloonan says.

Cloonan admires the patient-centered care provided at the clinic.

“Medical care is so complex. You need a central place to pull all of the different aspects together—physical, psychological, dental, nutritional, and so on. A team is your best bet,” she says. “This is the future of health care.”

The behavioral health setting has been eye-opening.

“I watched with awe as the preceptors interacted with mental health patients, treating them with such patience and respect. I will be taking that forward in my own practice,” Cloonan says, “that’s how everyone should be treated.”

Learning to care for the entire community is what Carlow’s program is all about, says Mitchum. Holistic care is especially important when dealing with mental health diagnoses—which too often complicate other illnesses.

“The MSN-FNP program is community-based,” she says. “We teach them primary care. Of people. All people.”

By Ann Lyon Ritchie