Last Updated: Jan 25, 2019
Irakli Mania, MD, a psychiatrist practicing in Chambersburg, Pa., is the medical director for Keystone Behavioral Health. He also serves as vice chairman of the Mental Health Board for Franklin and Fulton counties and is secretary-treasurer of the Central Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society. Dr. Mania is the recipient of the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Everyday Hero Award for January 2019.
A unique “Georgia to Georgia” partnership – a collaboration and health care exchange between the cities of Atlanta and Tbilisi – brought psychiatrist Irakli Mania, MD from the country of Georgia, a former Soviet republic, to Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.
Dr. Mania first came to the United States in 2000 as a result of his participation in a program led by the late Ken Walker, MD, an internist and professor of medicine at Emory. But, Dr. Mania’s journey to becoming a physician began much earlier.
His experiences growing up in post-Soviet, postwar Georgia were a major force behind his decision to become a psychiatrist and an addiction specialist. War, he says, had destroyed the country’s infrastructure and fostered an environment in which illegal drug use could thrive.
“I saw, as a teenager, my first drug epidemic,” he says. “I felt helpless at the time and could not do anything for my peers who were dying by overdose or from crime-related events.”
Dr. Mania remembers his time at medical school in Tbilisi as one of the happiest times of his life, despite the difficult conditions in his country during that time. “Acquiring all this knowledge was thrilling,” he says. “I remember studying under candlelight, in cold, and with copied material as opposed to original books.”
He thrived as a student and earned a research associate position at Emory University. The transition to a new country and culture was relatively seamless, Dr. Mania says, thanks to community support and a close network of friends and physicians from his homeland.
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Dr. Mania continued his medical training during a psychiatric residency at Drexel University’s College of Medicine. While there, he served as a chief resident and completed a year-long residency elective focused on addictive disorders.
Early in his tenure as a physician with Keystone Health in Franklin County, Pa., Dr. Mania obtained the required buprenorphine waiver he needed to treat opioid addiction. He is one of a small but growing number of clinicians in his region that offer this much-needed treatment to patients. “I think once people start to come for treatment, we are able to do a lot for them,” he says.
What is immediately evident about Dr. Mania is his boundless energy and enthusiasm for helping his patients. “I like movement, there are always wheels turning in my mind, coming up with new ideas, things to develop,” he says.
“What I appreciate about psychiatry is the fact that each individual patient is unique and requires individualized approach, as opposed to some medical problems that are same from person to person,” says Dr. Mania. It makes his work interesting and challenging.
In August 2016, Dr. Mania became the medical director for Keystone Behavioral Health. “One thing that I take pride in is that I am trying to get to know my co-workers,” he says of his leadership style. His colleagues view him as a physician who is very compassionate in his approach to patient care.
Dr. Mania has seen Keystone Behavioral Health grow since he first started working for the organization more than ten years ago. They continue to add psychiatrists, therapists, and other clinicians to Keystone’s ranks.
Keystone Health serves as a federally-qualified health center, which means that no patient is turned away due to an inability to pay. Dr. Mania is dedicated to ensuring that the patients in his community have access to high quality, cutting-edge treatments.
“As a medical director, I constantly seek new ideas and try to develop new things,” he says.
He has helped to bring a new depression treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to Keystone Behavioral Health patients. Designed for patients with treatment-resistant depression, TMS is an office-based procedure which safely delivers magnetic pulses to the brain.
Another of his current projects as medical director is developing a plan to bring telemedicine to his organization. He hopes that telemedicine, when implemented, will increase access to services for his rural community and enable patients to obtain additional specialty care options.
When possible, Dr. Mania also offers free consultations to family and friends in his native country. “Unfortunately, the state of mental health treatment and the system in general in Georgia is not very good still,” he says.
Dr. Mania and his wife, a neurologist who is also from Georgia, have two young daughters, and they have been able to keep their family connections strong. “We have grandparents on both sides who live in Georgia but come on a regular basis to help with children,” he says. His family keeps him energized – he couldn’t do what he does without them.
“Love what you do” is Dr. Mania’s advice to physicians just starting out in their careers. His own passion for his work shines through. “The fact that we are able to make a difference in the lives of people and that, in today’s day and age we are able to help majority of our patients, this is very rewarding and overshadows the other challenges of everyday practice.”
The chance to make a difference is what made Dr. Mania choose medicine in the first place. “Seeing somebody getting better, putting a smile on somebody’s face, makes my day.”