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Greenville Business Magazine

Prisma Health to Establish Endowed Chair for Upstate Mental Health Care

Feb 22, 2022 08:07AM ● By David Dykes

 By Liv Osby

The demand for mental health services far outpaced the ability of providers to care for all those who needed them long before Covid-19.

The pandemic only worsened the situation.

Now a $1.5 million gift from The Jolley Foundation will establish an endowed chair at Prisma Health aimed at improving mental health care in the Upstate by increasing the number of providers, enhancing access for those with mental health needs, and improving treatments through research and education.   

“After the winter (Covid) surge of 2020-21, we have seen a consistent spike in mental health demands,” said Dr. Karen Lommel, the chair of psychiatry for Prisma in the Upstate who was named the Robert A. Jolley Jr. Endowed Chair of Psychiatry and Community Health.

 “Our goal is to improve care delivery for mental health services.” 

Lommel, also an emergency medicine physician, said the initiative will help strengthen the bridge between psychiatric and primary care as well as attract and retain top psychiatrists and educate new ones.

“In the field of psychiatry, there is a national deficit of providers,” she said. “And a key to increasing the workforce is a big part of what (this) will help us do.”

For example, she said, it will fund an annual award to recognize medical students with an interest in psychiatry who go above and beyond in research efforts.

It also will help support community mental health needs through research, lectures from renowned leaders about best treatment practices, and community projects in collaboration with the Well Being Partnership of Greenville County, a coalition of stakeholders including Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greenville, United Way, Upstate Warrior Solution, the Phoenix Center and the Greenville Homeless Alliance as well as Prisma and Bon Secours St. Francis, she said.  

The gift was made by the foundation along with trustees James McDuffie Bruce III and Jolley Bruce Christman.

Launched by Robert A. Jolley Sr. and his wife Rucker originally as a way to help their employees, the foundation grew over the years to partner with community organizations to engender positive social change.

Jolley Sr. ran a beverage company that eventually became Royal Crown Cola in Greenville – later Greenco Beverage Company – which was taken over by Jolley Jr., who sold it in the 1960s, said Bruce, board chair of the foundation.

Jolley Sr. also started WMRC radio, he said.

The family established the endowed chair as a way to honor Jolley Jr., who also served as postmaster of Greenville, said Bruce. 

“Our uncle, Robert … was a wonderful man who cared deeply for others,” he said. “We established the endowed chair to celebrate him and his pioneering interest in mental health in Greenville County.”

Lommel said the foundation has also supported scholarships for medical students at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville as a way to improve mental health services, research, and education.

Even though the mental health workforce has increased significantly in recent years, it’s been outpaced by demand, she said. And through the shared trauma of the pandemic, the stigma surrounding mental health has diminished so that more people are comfortable seeking help, she said.  

“It’s OK to ask for help because we’ve all been in this horrible situation,” she said. “Mental health services are the norm now, but they should have been long ago.”

Lommel said the endowment will make a tangible difference in the community.

“This gift is an ongoing demonstration of The Jolley Foundation’s commitment to excellence in mental health in our community,” she said. “Both Prisma Health and our community are indebted to them; we intend to honor the legacy of their uncle for generations to come.”