Shellie Cook and Jill Willer wanted to create a community health center that would support the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of their clients, all under one roof. Cook, a licensed clinical social worker, and Miller, a licensed professional clinical counselor, opened the doors of Cornerstone Wellness Center in Auburn in October 2016, combining their 20-plus years of experience to support their clients’ diverse health and wellness needs.
“We launched the Wellness Center after recognizing and identifying a need for our clients to have access to a range of services to best address their health needs,” Cook says. In addition to providing psychotherapy and counseling, the center also offers massage therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, dietitian services and fitness/movement therapy.
The center offers a one-stop-shopping approach to mental and physical health, a place where clients have convenient access to a range of wellness practitioners—there are currently 12 practitioners offering their services there. Ultimately, Cook says, the goal of the center is to improve health outcomes for patients “in the hopes that accessibility and follow-through with treatment recommendations are greater due to this convenience. We strive for a healthier community through integrated wellness practices.”
“Our clients have benefited from having all these services under one roof,” Willer says. “We’ve had experience with acupuncture helping clients that have struggled with anxiety and are able to gain relief from the body symptoms through acupuncture, while working on the cognitive pieces in counseling.”
One unique service offered at the center is Accelerated Resolution Therapy, an eye movement therapy that replicates the rapid eye movement stage of sleep and uses a technique called voluntary memory/image replacement to change the way negative images are stored in the brain. Willer and Cook were the first therapists in Maine to be trained in ART, which Willer says “has allowed us to work with a wide range of people experiencing some very difficult symptoms and experience relief.” ART helps to resolve anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, anger and addictions and allows the client to eliminate negative images associated with loss or death, traumatic memories or phobias.
The center also provides a place where practitioners can collaborate with one another, learn about the benefits of each other’s services and work together to create an individualized treatment plan for their clients.
Cook and Willer chose Auburn’s Court Street as their location in large part because Lewiston-Auburn hosts two of the states’ primary hospitals, Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s. The location has paid off so far, as the center has established a solid foundation of practitioners and clients, a success that Cook attributes to “the need in this community, and the desire for other providers to have a collaborative effort to help their clients.”
Despite this early success, Cook and Willer have been challenged by the many tasks and responsibilities involved in operating a 5,900-square-foot building, including building renovations and systems operations. These management tasks come in addition to the challenge of maintaining “a full-time therapy practice and supporting our practitioners—balance has been tricky,” Cook says.
Another challenge has been “systems limitations,” or constraints from insurance companies and the MaineCare and Medicare systems. For example, services provided at the center often come at a high expense to the client, and insurance companies can limit treatment if an issue is considered “not medically necessary” to seek treatment for, such as bereavement. As a result of this obstacle, Cook says they have had to be creative “in offering opportunities for the range of clients we support, if affordability or lack of insurance coverage is a barrier.” Though many of the services offered at CWC are not currently covered by health insurance, Cook says that CWC’s long-term goal is “to demonstrate improved health outcomes for patients/clients that may encourage greater coverage of our range of services.”
In looking down the road at the future of the business, Cook and Willer have plans to plant a community garden and educate people on healthy food choices, offer cooking and food preparation classes, provide lectures and trainings on various health topics and offer support groups for challenges like PTSD and Lyme disease.
“We are open to exploring any opportunities that this community may benefit from,” Cook says. “We hope to be a cornerstone of the community, offering an even greater range of opportunities for health and wellness outside of a typical office visit.”
Mercedes Grandin is a freelance writer, editor, English teacher and tutor. She lives in Brunswick with her husband Erik and their chocolate Labrador Fozzie.
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