Carol Witham is no stranger to success, certainly not financial success. In 2014, she sold her Woodland International Research Group, with $12 million in annual revenue, for enough money to set her and her family up for life.
She’s chosen to devote her energies to Inspiration Day Treatment of Little Rock, which provides mental health services to the most seriously chronically mentally ill patients, those with diseases like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, diseases that require constant management and care.
Inspiration Day Treatment, with a staff of 42, sees about 100 patients a day. It’s a matter of maintaining “recovery” from diseases for which there is no current cure. Witham quotes patient advocate Pat Deegan, who herself was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager: “Recovery does not mean cure. Rather recovery is an attitude, a stance and a way of approaching the day’s challenges.”
Witham adds to this: “We’re trying to get individuals to the best of where they can be every single day.”
She didn’t grow up with mental illness in her family, Witham says. In fact, Witham, raised in Dallas, cites the loving support her family provided. But she did have a cousin, Brandon, who was born with a developmental disability, and “I absolutely love him and cherish him, and he’s inspired me in so many areas.” Witham says, “Brandon was probably my reason to get into a helping field.”
She traces her empathy for the mentally ill to an internship at Rivendell Behavioral Health Services of Arkansas during which she saw children with significant mental health issues. They moved Witham to tears.
But before there was Inspiration Day Treatment, which Witham founded in 2007, there was Woodland International Research Group, which she started in 2005.
Woodland International, of Little Rock, conducted psychiatric clinical research. Witham led more than 100 clinical research studies for more than 30 pharmaceutical companies, investigating therapies to treat major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactive disorder, among other mental illnesses. She also did studies for non-psychiatric illnesses, such as hypertension, osteoarthritis and atrial fibrillation.
In 2014, with the company at 70 employees and $12 million in annual revenue, Witham sold Woodland to DFW Capital Partners, a private equity company. She served on the board of Woodland’s successor company, Evolution Research Group, which sold earlier this year to Linden Capital Partners.
The founding of Inspiration Day Treatment was an outgrowth of work done at Woodland. After psychiatric clinical trials, research subjects often have trouble finding facilities to treat them for their mental illness, Witham says. “After the clinical trial it was hard to refer patients out to other facilities,” she says. “And many individuals or providers didn’t want to take a patient back into their system if they ... did a trial.”
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Witham launched Inspiration Day Treatment to help the many seriously chronically mentally ill people who need not just therapy but the kind of sustained assistance that permits recovery. It offers different forms of therapy, as well as help with housing, budgeting, accessing community services and problem-solving.
In addition, Inspiration Day Treatment employs three nurses to administer medication to patients. That’s because in some patients even just 24 hours without medication can seriously exacerbate symptoms. “And when that occurs, the brain never really totally gets back to the level it was before [the patient] got sick.”
The clinic also treats a number of “911” patients, a reference to Act 911 of 1989, who have been acquitted of crimes because of mental disease or defect. “These guys are court-committed, a lot of times very difficult,” she says. “We have quite a few of those clients here who have done really well.”
What makes Inspiration Day Treatment different, Witham said, is that the staff treats patients like human beings. “The human connection is so imperative to someone’s recovery.”
Witham started Inspiration near the time that the state implemented a moratorium on new mental health clinics receiving Medicaid reimbursements for patient services, so it began almost as “more of a philanthropic kind of project.”
“We went approximately two years fully staffed and JCAHO-accredited, state-certified before we even received any form of funding,” she says, referring to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, now called simply the Joint Commission, a nonprofit that evaluates health care organizations.
In the last two years, the clinic had reached a 1 percent profit margin, Witham said. However, “just recently, in the last two months, Medicaid has cut 38 percent of case management,” she says. With Medicaid and Medicare the only sources of revenue for Inspiration Day Treatment, that has meant her family is again having to put money into the business.
“We are looking to diversify Inspiration to help continue to supplement funds lost and do some private practice insurance for therapy and medication management, potential pharmacy, things like that,” Witham says. “We’re looking to diversify in order to survive.”
Witham says 4 percent of the population of the United States has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, and she’s not going to give up providing care.
“This is the population that is the most vulnerable population in our state,” she says. “It’s only ethical to do what we can, to help them in their recovery process. And I’ll spend the rest of my career — life — advocating for that 4 percent.”
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