by James Coburn – staff writer
Behavioral health has always been at the heart of Gayla Brum, RN, director of Autumn Life Center at OU Health Edmond Medical Center. Brum has worked in behavioral health since 2002 and was hired as the director of Autumn Life Center in March of 2020. Her career has spanned from working with adolescents to the geriatric population.
“It means more to me than anything because I feel I make a bigger difference to them,” Brum said. “I like to see when they have the smallest changes — the smile on their faces.”
Autumn Life Center is an inpatient behavioral health program developed to meet the unique needs of mature adults, age 55 and older. This geriatric psychiatry program addresses and seeks to relieve the suffering that occurs due to changes in emotional, mental and behavioral wellness. Some of the behavioral health disorders had never been diagnosed prior to connecting with Autumn Life Center. (story continues below)
“There are health disorders that have taken them to many places we’ll never know,” she said.
Issues may include schizophrenia, bipolar, and dementia. They may have experienced incremental periods of sadness and grief that culminated into a deeper depression until being addressed at Autumn Life Center.
“That melts my heart when you are sitting there holding one of their hands, and they’re remembering things and they are talking to you about their past,” Brum continued.
Patients have expressed regular depression or come there with suicide ideation and a history of suicide attempts.
“We’re here to help them with all of it. Whether it be from their illness and them trying to escape it and their past and everything that’s caught up with them.”
Patients may have never had any type of treatment before, Brum said. Autumn Life Center is there to bridge the gaps in life. There is an intake team and a therapist to evaluate their criteria for admissions. Psychiatrist and Medical Director Tracy S. Loper clears patients who come to the unit.
“We want to make sure their medical needs don’t override their psychiatric needs,” she said.
Upon admission a therapist works with each patient as needed while nurses make sure their medical needs are met by providing medications. The behavioral health techs spend the most time with the patients, Brum said.
“They see the changes. They talk with them all throughout their stay,” Brum explained. “They’re assisting them with every little thing they need. They are talking with the family.”
The discharge planner navigates where the patient will go after leaving Autumn Life Center. Sometimes the family can no longer care for their loved one at home.
“They work with the families and with the doctors to find the best place for that patient,” she said.
Patients are referred to the center from across the state and beyond Oklahoma. It can be difficult for families in a small rural town to find the best facility that is nearby the family.
“We treat the whole person, so we’re looking at all of their medical needs. We have the medical doctors that see the patient in the unit as well,” Brum said.
Not too long ago a man living with dementia in his late 60s came to the Autumn Life Center. He would begin to yell, calling for his cattle and dog.
“I’m a country girl and grew up around cattle, and so he reminded me of my dad,” she said.
He would become aggressive at times until Brum would sit next to him and hold his hand.
“I found some old country music, and he would just start singing. He might cuss like a sailor any other time,” Brum said. “But you turn on that country music and it would be so great to sit there and listen to him sing, stop yelling and sit there with him. He wouldn’t be disturbing anybody during that time.”
It meant a lot for Brum to know she could connect with the farmer at a deeper level.
Brum said it’s important not to express anger toward someone with dementia. They have a neurological disease and cannot always remember conversation or what they are asked to do.
“Show them how to do something if they’ve forgotten it,” she said. “It’s important that they still do things on their own. They don’t want you to do everything for them. They still want to be independent, especially living at home. That’s not to say cooking at home, but little things, using the remote or calling someone on the phone.”
Brum always felt the need to help people and became a nurse later in life. She was a high school drop-out who learned not to underestimate what she could accomplish in life and help humanity.
She took every little step to work her way up in the field of nursing. Brum earned her Master of Science in Nursing degree at the University of Central Oklahoma and her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at Oklahoma City University’s Kramer School of Nursing. She went to Francis Tuttle to receive her LPN credential and Oklahoma Community College for her associate’s degree.
“I’m currently in the DMP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) program at OU,” Brum said.
This mother and grandmother also loves living in the country.
“What I do in my leisure time is to hang out with my family,” she said.
For more information about Autumn Life Center at OU Health Edmond Medical Center, visit: