When the Crestwyn Behavioral Health opened its doors in spring 2016, it represented a unique experiment in the form of collaboration between Nashville-based Acadia Healthcare - a leader in behavioral health services - and Saint Francis Hospital, Baptist Memorial Health Care and Delta Medical Center. The opportunity to embrace the leadership role at Crestwyn was one of the factors that brought CEO Jep Stokes to Memphis, where today he confirms the success of that experiment.
"Crestwyn is a new type of hospital, combining not-for-profit hospitals and their service lines with a mental health company like Acadia; and this is the way I believe the future of mental health is going," Stokes said, "really wrapping your arms around the community's needs in a full circle and having continuity of care. Being the CEO of such a joint venture is hands-down my biggest career accomplishment."
As Acadia's appointed CEO, Stokes took over Crestwyn's day-to-day operations from current Delta Medical CEO Phil Willcoxson just 22 days after they co-opened the center together. Debuting as a 60-bed, 61,000-square-foot psychiatric hospital, Crestwyn was recently granted a 10 percent increase in bed capacity and is now a 66-bed hospital.
Stokes began his healthcare career as a community liaison at Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital in his hometown, Panama City, Fla. Intrigued by its mission, he rose through the ranks to become director of business development. With the help of a mentor, Stokes achieved an upward transfer to become chief operating officer at a Houston facility, and was later accepted into Acadia's CEO-in-training program, which ultimately brought him to Memphis to help open Crestwyn's doors.
The greatest challenge he faced as the "new kid on the block" was the difficulty of attracting patients -- and providers -- to Crestwyn from the many other well-established facilities in Memphis.
"Just getting the word out that people have another choice in Memphis -- the same services provided in a new, smaller, state-of-the-art hospital, which provides a more intimate level of care -- was a challenge," he said.
"We have an absolutely amazing family here," he added, "but the reality is we haven't been able to keep up with our growth."
With five privileged psychiatrists and two privileged internists, Stokes is looking for one or two more psychiatrists and adding other layers of specialty, including a trauma specialist.
"We're staffed exactly where we want to be, but we're always trying to add more talent," he said.
The depth of the current opioid crisis is something neither Stokes nor Acadia anticipated when he arrived in Memphis. "We're seeing patients from Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, even Alabama, as well as Tennessee, and from many different walks of life. I don't think we truly anticipated exactly how much we were going to see."
But although opioids are the No. 1 reason people go to Crestwyn seeking help for detox services, it is not the center's primary focus. Its most in-demand services involve acute psychiatric issues. "People coming to us with severe depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts of harming themselves or others is still at the top of that list," he said.
Stokes sees a growing trend toward improved awareness, however, that creates less of a negative stigma for people who have mental illness -- making it less difficult for them to reach the decision to seek care. "Now you hear factoids that one in four people suffer from depression; 10 years ago, it was one of those things that nobody talked about -- until it was so much of a problem that you'd lost a family member or a loved one," he said.
Although the problem affects all ages, Crestwyn is seeing adolescents between ages 13 and 17 who are dealing with more significant issues regarding depression, revolving around traumatic experiences often the result of bullying or cyber-bullying. "Now," he added, "a bully can follow you (even at home) on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. There's no escape, and that's increasing the issues with our youth at an alarming rate."
Identifying the symptoms and signs of bullying, and educating kids regarding the ramifications of their bullying actions can make a difference, he advises. "If we do a better job coaching our kids not to pick on people for being different ... I think that will go a long way to at least decreasing the crisis that we're in with the youth epidemic of suicide."
"Ultimately," Stokes said, "we want to be the No. 1 choice for care in mental health in Memphis. We want to be known for having the best practices in the industry, and we want to be able to coach other facilities on how to duplicate our successes. Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter where you get help, we just want people to be helped."
To that end, Crestwyn offers free assessments to walk-in patients. "Anybody can come to us in crisis at any time," he said. "We're open 24-7."
But perhaps the key to Stokes' success is his determination to help both Crestwyn's patients and its staff to reach their goals. "I have this huge push in my life to organically grow new leadership and have them reach every goal that they look toward, because someone helped me do the same," he said. "I really strive to be a mentor more than a boss. I want my staff to know that I'm there for them, and the more people that I can get to their ultimate career goal, the more satisfied I'll be."
The things he prizes most are his faith and his family -- wife Brooke and two sons ages 4 and 8 -- whose support is his greatest blessing. He is passionate about college sports and committed to staying active, fit and healthy.