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An ally inspired by folks on the tough road to recovery

To hear Dorota Gardy M.D. tell it, she is fortunate to be able to work with her patients.

“I get to see people really engage in this road of recovery and wellness, and then I see them succeed,” she said. “I’m very fortunate.”

Gardy is the medical lead and only psychiatrist in Rochester Regional Health System’s Personalized Recovery Oriented Services program. All who come to the intensive outpatient program, which operates at the Genesee Mental Health Center in Rochester, have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness. Many also might suffer from chemical dependency—addictions to alcohol, drugs or both.

“Probably a good 50 percent of our population is dual-diagnosed,” Gardy explained.

The PROS goals are to help patients overcome mental illness and any addictions they might have and in addition achieve their vocational, educational or other personal goals. Gardy has been with the program since 2010.

“We offer a very comprehensive and a very thorough approach to providing care,” she said.

Gardy meets every patient in the program—she can have as many as 260 patients altogether—while working as part of a team that includes a registered nurse, social worker, addictions counselor and vocational therapist.

 “She works as a kind of a leader of that team in ways that make the social workers and the nurses and others feel very supported taking care of a difficult population,” said Kathryn McGuire, senior vice president for behavioral health and community-based services at RRHS.

Those who work with Gardy praise her dedication to the PROS program and to her patients.

“She is the most incredibly flexible, creative physician I have worked with,” said licensed social worker Eve Gotham, director of child and family and PROS services. “She is always thinking about what is best for the individuals we serve and the benefits of the program overall.”

Those qualities may have come into play when the psychiatrist was working with a homeless man who was struggling with depression, addicted to a number of substances and estranged from his family.

 “He had lost pretty much everything,” Gardy explained. “The hopelessness and the helplessness was pretty tangible.”

At the same time, her patient insisted that he would not accept his situation—or surrender to his demons. She sought to build upon that stubborn refusal to give in.

“I took that statement of tenacity and hard-headedness … and I said to him, ‘Could you use that same strength and courage to really get your life back?’” she said.

The patient agreed, and with the help of Gardy and her team began working on his recovery. By February of this year, he had been clean and sober for at least 13 months, had his own apartment and was volunteering in a local clinic. Gardy speaks of the effort her patient made to overcome his hurdles with a kind of awe.

“I’m really humbled by this courage, this tenacity,” she said.

As part of her duties, Gardy also helps guide the Genesee Mental Health Center’s therapists.

“I have had the good fortune of learning from Dr. Gardy not only technical and therapeutic interventions but empathic engagement skills that change lives,” said licensed social worker Patricia Conolly. “I feel very fortunate to work with her.”

Gardy took on a new role in the beginning of February, when she was appointed GMHC’s medical director. While retaining her duties with PROS, she hopes to be able to shape the way the facility provides mental health treatment.

“With chronic mental illness, there is sometimes a tendency to just simply do the same, day in, day out,” she said. “In order to really be efficient … we really all need to be mindful of evidence-based practices. How do we deliver care?”

In addition to working at GMHC, Gardy is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester and works part time for the University of Rochester Medical Center in the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program.

Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

3/20/15 (c) 2015 RBJ Health Care Achievement Awards. Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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