The Doctor Is In

Derek Suite's holistic approach to medicine has his practice thriving

Dr. Derek Suite, a clinical psychiatrist, loves his profession — especially when it’s practiced with the spiritual and cultural sensitivity he believes are fundamental to the healing process. That’s why in today’s America, where many psychiatrists see prescription drugs as the only medical answer, Full Circle Health, a faith-based psychiatric practice that Suite runs, is still intent on tapping into the soul of the human spirit.

Full Circle, which opened its doors in 1999, posted revenues of $615,000 in 2003 and has nine employees. The Bronx, New York, practice, which saw more than 1,600 patients last year, provides medical consultations as well as counseling to drug addicts, married couples, and people suffering from depression.

Suite, 43, says the business took some time to get off the ground and its success surprised many of his friends, who said a psychiatric practice serving primarily African American and Latino patients would never turn a profit. “Everybody warned me not to do this. They said it would fail because there’s too much of a stigma attached to the psychiatric profession in the black and Latino communities,” Suite recalls.

But Suite knew better. The doctor’s insight came from his own experience as the assistant clinical director of the Bronx Psychiatric Center, which he estimates served 2,500 patients at that time. According to Suite, he saw firsthand how a hospital’s administrative tasks can sometimes be detrimental to patients’ needs. That happened, Suite said, when the hospital reshuffled the staff, placing him in charge of the outpatient department at short notice.

“A psychiatric setup anywhere is based on relationships, especially an outpatient adult department. To take away a doctor who was there for 15 or 20 years and put in a new doctor might seem simple from an administrative point of view, but for the lives of the patients that have been coming to see that doctor, it was devastating,” Suite says.

Suite’s next step was to ask his wife, Darcel, to quit her job as a senior producer at CBS News and help him open a practice. With $42,000 from their 401(k) and money market accounts, the couple paid for the renovation of a dilapidated office, rent, and office supplies. Darcel ran the administrative side of Full Circle’s business. “We joined forces and talents and created a true partnership, and I became the gatekeeper of the business,” Darcel explains.

To market the company’s services, the Suites visited churches in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Westchester County. They enrolled with insurance companies like Health Insurance Premium Payment, Cigna, and Aetna, and in keeping with Suite’s commitment to the less fortunate, his practice accepted Medicaid, which pays him less per patient than other insurance programs.

“Whatever money we make, our goal is to continue to provide our brand of healthcare, which encompasses a holistic, culturally competent, and spiritually sensitive approach,” Suite says. “We want to close the gaps in psychiatric healthcare services for our patients and complete the circle.”

Full Circle Health P.L.L.C.; 2105 Williamsbridge Rd.; Bronx, NY 10461; 718-518-7600 or 866-518-FULL; www.fullcircle health.org

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