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Foundation story

Your generosity helped Alex and provided hope

Published on Monday March 18, 2024
The Reitz family


Our community joined together to bring a new way of caring for behavioral health patients in crisis to central Virginia and made Lynchburg part of a national conversation. The Reitz family is grateful for the innovative, caring and helpful approach.

When Susan Reitz made a gift in 2023, she had no idea her family would use an innovative new service made possible by unrestricted gifts such as hers to the Greatest Need Fund. 

“I get the newsletter and I had read about emPATH,” she said. “I thought what a great resource. It sounded like a really good thing.”

A few months later, she was there with her son, Alex. 

“It was really helpful,” Susan said. “They brought him right in. Alex wasn’t there long at all when one of the doctors came in to see him. The doctor was really wonderful and caring. In fact, everyone there was.”

After an evaluation, Alex was admitted. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect since I had never been there,” he said. “I liked everyone who took care of me. It was the majority of the staff.”


The emPATH unit at Centra Lynchburg General Hospital
The emPATH unit at Centra Lynchburg General Hospital. The unit also includes an outdoor space.

‘The impact is just incredible’

The emPATH unit opened in September 2023 thanks to a generous gift from an anonymous grateful patient, enthusiastic donations from the community, a commitment from the Centra Foundation and determined Caregivers. 

However, emPATH (Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment and Healing) is more than a unit. It is an innovative way of caring for people facing an acute mental health crisis that also eases the strain on the ED.  

As part of the unconventional approach, patients can move around, get snacks, talk to other patients and even go outside with Caregivers for fresh air and sunshine. Patients are often discharged with a plan that extends beyond the walls of the hospital and involves community resources.

Leaders from other healthcare systems have noticed. Some have requested to tour the space, making your impact even greater. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that emergency department visits for young people in mental distress rose sharply over the past decade.

“Donors really helped to bring a new way of caring for behavioral health patients to Centra and made us part of a national conversation,” said James Bryant, RN, DNP, CEN, CPEN, NEA-BC, vice president, Emergency Services. “Now we’re passing that knowledge along. Aside from all that, emPATH has opened more people’s eyes to mental health needs. The impact is just incredible.”

‘We’re very grateful’

While receiving care, Alex also “slept for a long time, played Uno, listened to music and watched movies.”  

“They were able to really work on what medication was working and change his medication to help,” Susan said. “Caregivers were checking in on him and explaining what he was experiencing.”

The family especially appreciated the care Alex received from Nurse Practitioner Drew White and a health navigator. 

“You just don’t get that kind of service in one place anywhere,” Susan said. “It’s just a whole different approach. We’re very grateful. I definitely want to continue to support emPATH.”

Alex also shared his gratitude. “Thanks so much for the support," he said. "I would not be the same person I am now.”


More about emPATH at Centra

  • Over 200 patients have received care so far.
  • 75% of patients are able to be discharged instead of being admitted to an inpatient unit.
  • Length of stay for behavioral health patients in the ED has been reduced by an average of 4.72 hours.
  • Celebrating 6 months.
  • First in Virginia. 


The Centra Foundation has committed $4.5 million for the construction and first-year operating expenses. Visit to learn more.

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