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CITIZEN COLUMNIST: Will your anchor hold?

CITIZEN COLUMNIST: Will your anchor hold?

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“Will Your Anchor Hold?” and “Anchors, Aweigh” are famous lines that can apply to the new Anchor Lane, a townhouse project in Florence.

The first is the title of a hymn by Priscilla Jane Owens and William J. Kirkpatrick written in 1882, The words were inspired by the Epistle to the Hebrews, Chapter 6, Verse 19: "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast. ...” (Wikipedia). The second song, by Charles Zimmermann, was written in 1906 for the U.S. Naval Academy, now the official U.S. Navy song.

Groundbreaking for Anchor Lane in Florence was held on Aug. 1, 2018. Sixteen units are now home for individuals with mental illness, stable and under medical care, who are independent but in need of personal case management.

The first tenants began moving into the attractive town house project in the first week of December 2019. And so culminated a five-year effort spearheaded by Shirley Imbeau and S.C. Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. from Florence with the able assistance of Joy Jay of Mental Health America of South Carolina, Columbia, and others.

Mental illness is common in the United States, but fortunately as a serious disorder it is rare but of critical importance to those so afflicted with depression, bipolar disorder and the other effective or thought disorders. In the United States, the frequency of mental illness is anxiety disorder (28.8%), mood disorder (20.8%), impulse-control disorder (24.8%) or substance use disorder (14.6%), 6.7% for major depressive disorder (higher in some studies, and in women) and 0.8% for bipolar and/or schizoid-effective disorder (Wikipedia).

With the rise of better medical therapies and a general societal distaste for institutional psychiatric care, U.S. patients were moved slowly out of hospitals or long-term care facilities to their communities, hopefully to the homes of loving family beginning in the 1950s. But at the same time, shifts in both insurance coverage and policies discouraged mental health professionals so that the number of psychiatrists in the United States has remained flat to slightly down over the past 10 years, although increasing by 87% since 1970 with a general population increase of 65%. And maybe more importantly, health insurance companies only cover now very short hospital stays.

These phenomena have led to increases in homelessness, arrests and drug addiction in these vulnerable populations. Texas reports that 55% of its homeless population has significant metal illness. Unfortunately, teenagers are now facing increased risks, particularly with suicide.

Mental Health America was formed in 1909 to provide support to the mentally ill, their caretaker professionals and their families. Mental Health American of South Carolina was formed in 1954. Joy Jay of Columbia is the director. Her group has successfully developed six sites similar to Anchor Lane throughout the state.

Previously, for approximately seven years, Shirley walked alongside a close relative diagnosed with severe mental illness. She learned of the many resources available for treatment of mental illness, but eventually she also learned that afflicted individuals are on their own for daily life. The living alternatives include group homes or sober living residences, which offer help for a dual diagnosis but are generally dominated by a focus on drug rehabilitation, not optimum for the mentally ill without serious addiction.

Shirley sought some sort of arrangement that would emphasize independent living, freedom of movement and yet provide basic living skill support and structure. She envisioned a place to call home so tenants would not be wondering, “How long can I stay here, and where do I go next?” And so, she had the burning desire to build such a home, a place for folks to safely Anchor, right here in Florence.

But how to do it and how to fund such a project? Well, as we all know, right here in Florence lives the South Carolina Master Wizard of Politics and Public Service, Sen. Hugh Leatherman. When Shirley approached Sen. Leatherman, she was delighted to learn the wise, thoughtful, helpful and maybe even more important VERY INTERESTED senator understood the complex personal and social problems of mental illness.

“Put together a proposal,” he said, and she did. Next, “Now, bring back how you would approach such a project,” he said, and she did.

What followed was 3-4 years of leg work and education. Shirley was by now in touch with Mental Health America, S.C., and its dynamic leader, Joy Jay. She traveled to Greenville and Columbia to view their projects. Along the way, Shirley received one of their “Volunteer of the Year” awards in 2018. Joy hired the architect, project managers and contractors. Shirley organized a local group to assist her. So, finally, with great enthusiasm and local help, they were ready to go.

And Senator Leatherman? He helped at each step of the way with sound advice. With South Carolina State Agency contacts, economic development contacts and the concurrence of Gov. Nikki Haley, the senator was able to secure funding of the project along with some money raised from Mental Health America, private donors and local foundations.

Local government facilitated approvals, utility connection and permitting. The architect and project manager was Dennis Ward at FW Architects and the contractor, Charles Mimms at Mimms Contracting.

The finished project is attractive and functional. Mental Health America of South Carolina now owns Anchor Lane through a foundation and provides all support, management and tenant selection. It has a small office and gathering room on the premises, but COVID-19 has prevented several expected support programs. HopeHealth Inc provides case management along with general health care on an individual basis.

Although still young, Anchor Lane is successfully filled with worthy tenants.

And Shirley has seen the Anchor of her soul indeed provide the anchor that holds.

Indeed, may your anchor hold.

THANK YOU FLORENCE.

Written with historical and editorial assistance of Shirley Imbeau and the concurrence of the other principals.

Dr. Stephen Imbeau and his wife, Shirley, moved to Florence on March 1, 1980. Arriving from Wisconsin, they were most surprised the next morning to see six inches of snow on the ground. Their three children were born and raised in Florence. Dr. Imbeau with Dr. Joseph Moyer opened the Allergy Asthma and Sinus Center in 1996, now one of the largest allergy practices in South Carolina. You can reach him at citizencolumnist@florencenews.com.

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