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Doctors commit to improving health unit

| Monday, Jan. 3, 2005

Two area psychiatrists, motivated by separate goals, are working to enhance the behavioral health unit of Westmoreland Latrobe Health Partners at Latrobe Area Hospital.

For Dr. David M. Rosenthal, his oldest son, Phillip, 11, inspired him to expand his practice to include child and adolescent psychiatry.

"I was trained and began practice as an adult psychiatrist," said Rosenthal, recently named the new medical director of behavioral health services. "When Phillip was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 1/2, it was really rough. Because of that, I gradually began to increase my involvement in treating children with developmental disorders."

Phillip Rosenthal is nonverbal and is extremely limited in terms of being able to develop friendships. Phillip uses a portable augmented communication device known as a DynaMyte system which allows him to touch various screen pads to communicate his wants and needs.

"He has used this system for about five years," Rosenthal said. "He can navigate through the screens when he's motivated to let us know what he wants. He can do it, but he needs a lot of prompting to get him to."

Rosenthal and his family -- wife, Lili; Phillip; and 10-year-old Eddie, a fourth-grade student at Mountain View Elementary School -- moved from Lancaster County, where Rosenthal served as medical director of T.W. Ponessa & Associates, to Unity Township in June.

Although Phillip had to change schools, he has adjusted well. He takes his DynaMite to Latrobe Elementary School where he is in fourth grade and enrolled in the Life Skills classes.

"He is very happy to be at school," Rosenthal said. "It is a big learning curve for the school's staff to learn about Phillip's special needs, but everyone has been very loving and kind to Phillip and they have been very motivated to help him learn."

Rosenthal joined Latrobe Area and Westmoreland Regional hospitals as a staff psychiatrist with more than 10 years' experience in inpatient and outpatient care and emergency psychiatry. His biggest goal for the behavioral health unit is to improve community awareness of the availability of child and adolescent services.

"Many community health providers may not be aware that our services exist," Rosenthal said. "I want to improve the community's perception of our inpatient child and adolescent services."

He also hopes to expand both the partial-hospitalization and school-based therapy programs.

Playground plans

Because of the recent LAH and Westmoreland merger, the behavioral health units of both hospitals were realigned into a child and adolescent unit at LAH, and an adult unit, which moved to Westmoreland.

"Now that the adult services moved to Greensburg, there is room for a much-needed children's playground for the child and adolescent behavior health unit at Latrobe," said Dr. Joel Last, a staff psychiatrist at LAH for seven years. "Play is an important component of treatment. Kids need to be active and during their play activities, they talk more because they feel more comfortable, more relaxed."

Prior to attending medical school, Last dabbled in theater in college and pursued a short-lived show business career in New York City. Although he left New York after four months, he never abandoned his first love of music.

"I played the trumpet and clarinet in high school, and I took some voice lessons way back when," said Last, 52. "But my interest in medicine overrode everything else. Last year I was looking through the Yellow Pages and saw a listing for a recording studio in Mt. Pleasant. I always had a fantasy that I would be a recording artist."

Last hooked up with Studiophonix 3001 Ltd. and began recording big band songs with the intention of giving copies of the CD out as Christmas presents to his staff members and geriatric patients.

"Then the nurses on the unit said they needed the playground and they were trying to raise funds," Last said. "I wondered if anyone would purchase the CD as a fund-raiser."

The 12-song CD, "Foolish Hearts," features Frank Sinatra-like ballads and such standards as "I'll Be Seeing You," "Day by Day" and "Jeepers Creepers."

Copies of "Foolish Hearts" are available for $10 each in the gift shops of LAH and Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant. Copies also can be purchased from Last's private-practice office in Greensburg by calling 724-853-1945. Checks may be made payable to the LAH Charitable Foundation.

"I'm hoping to raise $5,000 through the sales of the CDs, and the hospital promised to match the funds," Last said. "With $10,000, we can get a pretty nice playground for the kids."

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