Tanya Sorrell opened the Mental Health and Wellness Center in Yuma, Ariz., on Jan. 28, 2009. To most observers, that day may have been like any other sunny Arizona day. But the circumstances that surrounded the clinic's inception were by no means ordinary. It all started with a scorpion.
The Sting of Change
While in her Yuma home in October 2008, Sorrell was stung by a bark scorpion, whose venom can be a lethal neurotoxin. An antivenom is available in neighboring Mexico, but it's not approved for use in the United States. "Less than 10 minutes after I was stung, I couldn't breathe," Sorrell recalls. By the time her stepmother got her to the emergency department, Sorrell had lost consciousness. She spent 2 days in intensive care, then received services from another hospital for neurologic rehabilitation.
Recovery took months. "I had to learn to walk, talk and think again," she says. "I started follow-up therapy, and in the meantime they suggested I start t'ai chi to help with my balance and coordination."
Things were looking up until Sorrell's NP position at a Yuma community mental health center was terminated (she was on medical leave at the time). Unemployed and worried about access to care for her patients, she sought advice from NP colleagues with whom she met monthly. These friends banded together, providing as much information and advice as they could to help her start her own practice. Using personal funds, Sorrell rented office space and began seeing her patients for medication management just 2 weeks later.
Life After Poncho
Because Sorrell has improved her Spanish-speaking ability in the months since the scorpion sting, Sorrell's NP friends gave the attacker a name: Poncho. "Whenever they tell me my Spanish is so much better, I say, 'Gracias, Poncho!' Without him I never would have gone out on my own.
"It's like my life has a 'before Poncho' and an 'after Poncho,'" she explains. And had it not been for Poncho, nothing would be as it is now, especially not her practice: She has incorporated t'ai chi and yoga as a result of the difference these disciplines made in her own physical and emotional recovery. These classes are provided in Spanish as well as English, an important service in a community that is more than 50% Hispanic. Sorrell also offers wellness groups, career counseling groups, weight management services, psychotherapy provided by a licensed social worker and acupressure massage. "Every patient gets individualized services," she emphasizes. Sorrell also hopes to add reduced-rate psychotherapy sessions provided by senior students in master's degree counseling programs. She is also transitioning her practice to a full electronic medical record system.
With an eye toward even more business growth, Sorrell is enrolled in a PhD program with courses in herbal medicine, and she hopes to offer herbal and homeopathic therapies for mental health conditions. She is seeking a certificate in herbal medicine because herbal preparations help with anxiety and depression, she says. "And many don't realize it, but Mexican herbal medicine has as many differing types of herbal treatments as Chinese herbal medicine."
Sorrell's holistic approach is unique in the Yuma area. "It's the only mental health center where at one facility you can get medication management, educational groups, t'ai chi and yoga," she says. "Holistic mental health services are integral to mental health ... one thing about being a nurse practitioner versus a psychiatrist is that the nurse practitioner looks more at the person than the diagnosis." Her integrative mental health practice has also received national notice: She will be presenting a model for incorporating alternative mental health services in clinical practice at the upcoming American Holistic Nursing Association's annual conference.
Running a New Business
Through word of mouth and marketing, including TV commercials in both English and Spanish, Sorrell's practice has grown quickly in its first year. She outgrew her original space and now sees 45 patients a week. Her business has made a remarkable 9-month financial turnaround and was in the black as of October.
Sorrell didn't know all that went into owning a business before she started, and she says working with fellow NP business owners and seeking assistance from experts in billing and coding was crucial to her success. "I wouldn't have been able to get this started without the help of my NP colleagues," she comments. "Reading as much as you can is always helpful, but the experience of talking to other people who've already done it has certainly paved the way for me."
For more information on Sorrell's practice, visit www.yumamentalhealth.com.
Jennifer Ford is the associate editor at ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.