Our Treatment Team

At Center for Hope of the Sierras, we apply a holistic approach to recovery and highly individualized treatment is the standard. We pride ourselves on our passion and commitment to the healing process of each individual, and work to emphasize the development of therapeutic relationships in a safe and comfortable environment. Each team member has been carefully selected based on their sincere compassion and respect for every individual who enters our doors. The staff is comprised of a multi- disciplinary team of experts including a psychiatrist, medical internist, registered dietitian and nutrition therapist with a PhD in nutritional biochemistry, licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, and 24-hour nursing and patient assistants. In addition, Center for Hope has a unique group of specialized contract therapists including an art therapist, equine therapists, and yoga and meditation instructors.

Katie Stout, M.B.A.

Executive Director

Katie Cudworth has worked at Center for Hope of the Sierras since its opening in 2003 after discovering her passion for the field of eating disorders. Katie has worked as a resident assistant and lead resident assistant and was promoted to outpatient program director in 2010. In her position, Katie oversees the partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs and also runs several of the DBT Skills groups at both the residential and outpatient levels of care.

In addition to her position at Center for Hope, Katie’s passion for and dedication to helping individuals struggling with eating disorders has led her to pursue her master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy. Katie is DBT-certified and is especially skilled at working with borderline personality disorder and conflict resolution.
In addition to her professional life, Katie enjoys being a mother to her two children, going to the movies, and enjoying a nice Italian dinner.

Dwarak Vuppalapati, M.D.

Medical Director

Dr. Vuppalapati graduated from residency training in psychiatry from the University of Minnesota in 1999 and received intensive training on eating disorder treatment under Dr. Elke Ekert and Dr. Scott Crow. Dr. Vuppalapati attended Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut for his fellowship/advanced and post-doctoral training in psychosomatic medicine, addiction psychiatry and geriatric psychiatry. He later worked as a clinical instructor at Yale University teaching medical students, psychiatry residents, and physician assistants. From 2003 to 2004, Dr. Vuppalapati was the assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University’s Hepatitis C Clinic.

In 2004, Dr. Vuppalapati moved to northern Nevada and started his own private practice. In addition to his role as medical director for Center for Hope, Dr. Vuppalapati is the medical director for Behavioral Health Services of Carson-Tahoe Regional Medical Center and the medical director for the Focus Geriatric Unit at West Hills Hospital. Dr. Vuppalapati also leads the New Vision Medical Stabilization for Substance Abuse at the Northern Nevada Medical Center and serves as the staff psychiatrist for Senior Bridges, Douglas County Mental Health Center, and Right of Passage.
During his spare time, Dr. Vuppalapati enjoys auto racing, golfing and traveling the world.

Kelly Kitson, MFT

Clinical Director

Kelly brings extensive experience in mental health and eating disorders treatment and a passion for compassionate, individualized care to the Center for Hope team.

After earning a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Nevada, Reno, Kelly worked for seven years with a sober living facility, supporting and counseling families impacted by substance abuse. Kelly moved on to train with Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, a leader in the field of eating disorders treatment, while working as a staff therapist at Center for Hope of the Sierras. Kelly has also worked extensively with clients and families impacted by HIV, acute and long-term mental illness, substance abuse, sexual assault and trauma.

As clinical director of Center for Hope, Kelly infuses her work with staff and clients with warmth, compassion and enduring believe that healing is possible for every client.

Lorraine Platka-Bird, Ph.D., R.D., CDE

Dietitian, Nutrition Therapist

Dr. Lorraine Platka-Bird received her doctorate from Michigan State University in 1980 with a major in human nutrition and a minor in psychology. She became a registered dietitian in 1982.
As a dedicated professor in the Nutrition and Dietetics Department at the State University of New York for 19 years, Dr. Platka-Bird taught a wide variety of courses including Weight Management, Medical Nutrition Therapy, Nutritional Biochemistry, Sports Nutrition, Human Physiology, Nutrition Across the Life Span, and numerous related courses. During this period of time Dr. Platka-Bird was granted some of the most prestigious teaching awards offered in the State University system.

Dr. Platka-Bird has been counseling individuals with eating disorders for over 25 years. She takes a holistic approach to treatment, considering all aspects of physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. In addition to helping clients develop a healthy relationship with food, Dr. Platka-Bird helps individuals minimize eating disorder thoughts and behaviors, improve self-image and self-esteem, and develop healthy coping skills and life skills to improve overall quality of life.

Melissa Achurra

Director of Marketing

Melissa comes to us with more than five years of experience in the marketing communications industry. Melissa, who was born and raised in Las Vegas, attended the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) receiving her bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in marketing. Her experience includes implementing strategic media relations plans and promotions as well as integrated marketing communications experience implementing and executing marketing campaigns.

After graduating from UNR, Melissa worked as the public relations and advertising manager for Grand Sierra Resort, where she was responsible for the hotel casino’s public relations and marketing as a liaison for local, regional and national publications. Melissa was also responsible for creating news releases, media kits, brochures and collateral for Grand Sierra Resort. Her work also included planning grand openings and special events, media trips and press conferences.

Melissa participated in many nonprofit projects with the Grand Sierra Resort, which included organizing the Over The Edge fundraising event for Special Olympics of Nevada, which raised more than $60,000. In her free time, Melissa stays involved with the community as a Culinary Arts Committee Member for the Nevada Museum of Art. Melissa is also a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Young Professionals Committee, which assists with various events, volunteering and recruiting Bigs and Littles. She also stays involved with the University of Nevada, Reno as a member of the Pi Beta Phi Alumni Club and UNR Alumni Club.

Yani Dickens, Ph.D.

Sport Psychology, Therapist, Researcher

Dr. Dickens joined the staff of Center for Hope of the Sierras in August 2010. In addition to his work as a clinical psychologist for the University of Nevada, Reno Counseling Services, Dr. Dickens has a background in sport psychology and a passion for working with athletes and individuals with eating disorders. Dr. Dickens’ interest and experience in this field helps Center for Hope provide a much needed specialty for the treatment of eating disorders in this distinct population. Dr. Dickens is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno and received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas APA-accredited doctoral program in 2007 after completing his sport psychology-based dissertation on inner experience and golf performance. Dr. Dickens joins Center for Hope of the Sierras a part-time therapist and research analyst.

Kat Geiger, LSW, CSW-i


With a master’s in social work from UC Berkeley, Kat comes to center for hope with over a decade of experience in mental health treatment, including emergency psychiatric intervention, pediatric psychiatric intervention, eating disorders treatment and chemical dependency treatment. She joined the admissions team as a licensed social worker in 2013 and soon became a therapist on the clinical team in pursuance of clinical licensure.
Kat is passionate about developing individualized therapeutic interventions for each client she works with, specializing in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. She enjoys working with individuals as well as leading therapy groups and mentoring social work interns from the University of Nevada, Reno.
In her free time, Kat enjoys gardening, crafting, being mother to her three children and raising her backyard ducks.

Jillian Knight, MFT

Intern Therapist

Jillian Knight is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern and a Nationally Certified Counselor. She was born and raised in Reno, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Reno and received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology, a Master's degree in Human Development and Family Studies and a Master's degree in Counseling and Educational Psychology. Jillian completed her practicum hours at the Downing Clinic located on the University of Nevada, Reno campus where she worked with University students as well as individuals, couples, and families from the community. In addition to working as a therapist at Center for Hope, Jillian also provides counseling services to individuals and families at Reno Therapy. In her free time, Jillian enjoys traveling, exploring the outdoors with her dogs, and spending time with family and friends.

Paula Allec

Operations Director

Paula joined the Center for Hope as the office manager in 2009 and was promoted to Operations Director in 2010. Paula has been working in the medical billing field for over 10 years. She has worked as the office manager for a major laboratory chain, as well as the billing manager for a family practice office and an orthopedic office. She has extensive background in insurance and third party billing and has a good track record of getting claims paid.

In her free time Paula enjoys hiking, camping, and, most of all, spending time with her children and grandson.

Brenda Oberg, B.S.

Registered Dietetic Technician, Yoga Instructor, Massage Therapist

Brenda Oberg joined the Center for Hope of the Sierras team in 2010 as the nutrition assistant, yoga instructor, massage therapist, and part-time resident assistant. In her roles, Brenda meets with clients in the outpatient program to discuss nutrition triumphs and challenges between meetings with the registered dietitian, runs yoga and meditation groups for the residential and outpatient programs, and is the massage therapist for the residential program.

Brenda obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition (dietetics) from the University of Nevada, Reno and is a Registered Dietetic Technician. Brenda has also attended Seven Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Arizona to obtain her yoga teacher training in Hatha yoga and massage school at Sedona School of Massage in Sedona, Arizona. Prior to her work at Center for Hope, Brenda worked in a variety of health-oriented settings using yoga, massage, nutrition, and meditation.

Brenda is passionate about helping others find a deeper peace that can exist in daily life and being able to utilize her education and experience to help others to discover a more balanced relationship between mind and body. In her role at Center for Hope, she is able to challenge and encourage clients to separate from thoughts and behaviors that limit their experience of food, life, and their true self. When she’s not at Center for Hope, Brenda enjoys enjoying and exploring nature with her family and friends.

Kate Sedinger, MSW

Continuing Care Coordinator

Driven by a passion for communication and connection with people, Kate completed a dual bachelor’s degree in psychology and Spanish literature before pursuing her master’s in social work at the University of Nevada, Reno. Prior to joining the Center for Hope team, she worked in outpatient settings leading groups for adults living with chronic mental illness and in an inpatient psychiatric hospital conducting assessments for teens and adults experiencing acute mental illness and substance abuse. She has also worked at the Nevada Legislature as a lobbyist with specific focus on advocating for underprivileged populations.
Kate is passionate about supporting clients as they move out of intensive care and re-integrate into their communities. She views supported transitions as a critical component in eating disorder treatment and invests her energy in researching and connecting with providers throughout the country to ensure discharging clients have the support they need to continue their journeys to recovery. As part of Center for Hope’s continuing care program, she also maintains contact with clients after they discharge to offer continued support and encouragement.

Vanessa Hayden

Program Supervisor

Vanessa joined the Center for Hope Team in May of 2010 as a resident assistant. During her time as a resident assistant, she learned about every aspect of what an eating disorder program resident goes through during treatment. In 2013, Vanessa was promoted to program supervisor where she now and is responsible for overseeing day-to-day program operations and mentoring resident assistants.

Vanessa is currently obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Health and Human Services. She is extremely passionate about her studies in codependency, and has a goal of becoming certified to run codependency groups. Outside of her professional life, Vanessa loves being a mother to her three children, playing badminton, and gardening.

Elizabeth Shanklin, RN, BSN

Nurse Supervisor

Elizabeth was born and raised in Sun Valley, Idaho and has a passion for skiing, mountain biking, cycling, hiking, cooking, and traveling in her free time, all of which brought her to call the Reno/Tahoe area home 6 years ago. Elizabeth came to the Center for Hope of the Sierras in 2013 after earning Bachelors of Science degrees in Exercise and Sport Science and Nursing from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington and the University of Nevada, Reno, respectively. Elizabeth brings to the Center for Hope a diverse skill set with experience in several different disciplines of nursing including neurology, nephrology, oncology, and orthopedics. She discovered her career niche in the field of eating disorders when she started working for the Center for Hope of the Sierras as a day nurse, where she fell in love working with each individual client and being integral to the progression of their recovery.