James Smith

When 36-year-old James Smith was a little boy, he dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player. Today, he dreams of recovery from mental illness and being well enough to leave the AltaPointe group home where he lives.

“I haven’t felt depressed in a really long time,” Smith shared. “My goal is to go home and for people to see I am just like everyone else.”

Smith was among 13 patients from the Mobile area admitted to Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa after Searcy State Psychiatric Hospital in Mt. Vernon closed its doors Oct. 31, 2012.

“I do not want to go back to Bryce,” Smith added. “There is no freedom there… no group showers here, and I have my own room.”

Because of their symptoms, these patients’ personal freedoms were restricted in that environment. The Searcy closure plan designated Bryce as the hospital that would treat Mobile area patients who were not ready to be treated in a community setting because their behaviors were a potential danger.

Smith has been involuntarily committed twice. The first time was in 2005, when he was evaluated at BayPointe Hospital and then sent to Searcy. He was released three months later. Smith described the experience as being caught off guard.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god,’ because I did not know they could do that…put you anywhere for mental illness. I tried to keep my mouth shut during the hearing. The second time I had a hearing, I decided to speak up.”

Records indicate Smith’s diagnosis has varied over the course of his treatment ranging from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder. In the course of his illness, he has had paranoid ideations, trouble sleeping, shown aggression and moodiness, and had problems staying on his medications while living in the community, among many other symptoms.

Smith was committed a second time in 2012 to Searcy and, when Searcy closed, he was transferred to Bryce because it was determined he needed further inpatient treatment. Three months later, Smith was released from Bryce to AltaPointe’s Lakefront

Intermediate Care Facility (ICF), which meant he was able to be treated close to his home and family, who is involved in his treatment.

“If I did not have my family, I would be depressed,” Smith said. Despite his struggle to maintain wellness over his lifetime, Smith attended and graduated from college, earning a bachelor’s degree in pre-medical studies.

Progress at ICF leads to group home While living at Lakefront ICF, Smith made rapid progress, according to Patricia Sullivan, adult residential assistant director. Unlike an institutional setting, AltaPointe tailors care to meet individual patient needs. Sullivan attributes Smith’s success to the frequent psychiatric care and treatment services he received.

“He was seen daily by a doctor and received partial hospitalization treatment services five days a week,” Sullivan added. “After two-and-a-half months, he had shown significant progress and maintained stability. Then he made the transition to a less restrictive level of care and moved into one of AltaPointe’s group homes. He was discharged from his commitment status at that time.”

In an institutional setting, patients often are allowed outside for only one hour each day. AltaPointe provides patients with more time outdoors and in the community. A sock cap pulled over his head, most days you will find Smith walking the grounds of the Zeigler campus since he says sitting still is hard for him, and he enjoys being outside.

“I want to be treated like a normal person, and not be talked to like I am unintelligent,” Smith said. “People like me are not rare; actually, there are more people like me.”

Smith hopes one day more people will understand this, and that soon he will get to go home.