Employee Awards and Accolades

Music a way of life for Case Manager

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

As a veteran mental health professional, Jack Stevenson understands music’s powerful effects on a person’s psyche.

As a performer for nearly all his life, he witnesses them every time he takes the stage.

A self-taught musician and multi-degreed clinician, Stevenson often gleans lessons applicable across each discipline. And as a Blended Case Manager at Stairways Behavioral Health and lead vocalist and guitarist for the band Jackson Station, Stevenson is able to bring them into practice each chance he gets.

“Being a BCM is not a job for me,” he said. “I get a lot of self-gratification in putting people at ease and I get to do it at work and I get to do it with music."

Stevenson’s ability to use music as a tool in his work as BCM is thanks in no small part to its universal appeal.

“Out of thousands of people I’ve worked with, only two have ever said they didn’t like music of any kind,” he said. “Everyone loves music.”

That certainly includes Stevenson, who, at 51, has more than three decades of professional experience under his belt since he joined his first band, Endless Summer, shortly after high school. For the past nine years, Stevenson has assumed top billing for Jackson Station, a six-man classic rock tribute band that has earned critical acclaim, played venues such as Erie Downtown Block Parties, 8 Great Tuesdays and opened for bands including Cheap Trick and Three Dog Night.

Jackson Station specializes in covers celebrating the definitive American singer-songwriters such as Springsteen, Seger and Petty.

Appropriately, Stevenson’s selection of classic story songs is able to evoke a variety of emotions, which often serves as an opening for open and direct conversation.

“The biggest agent of change in life is the relationships we make with other people,” he said. “And music is a great way to build a relationship when our guard is down.”

In his work as case manager, Stevenson uses music in a similar way with clients.

“Music can be a gateway into what they’re feeling,” he said. “I ask them ‘why do you like this song?’ And they’ll say ‘Well it reminds me of a time when I was sad because of a breakup’ or ‘It reminds me of when my life was simpler and before I had these issues.’”

Whenever he can, Stevenson tries to incorporate music into his work.

When driving to an appointment or running an errand, he will make it a point to have on in his car the client's favorite radio station. Likewise, clients often enjoy visits to his Raven Sound music studio.

Interestingly enough, some of the more meaningful discussions occur at this time, Stevenson noted.

“When they’re sitting in an office talking, people might not always be comfortable opening up as opposed to when they’re sitting listening to music,” he said.

This experience should qualify as no shock, as in multiple studies, research suggests that music helps benefit our mental health by improving cognitive performance, reducing stress and elevating mood among other things.

But for Stevenson, listening to music isn’t merely “clinically approved,” it’s just right.

“(Music) is really a way to have emotions in the most natural way,” he said. “You don’t turn on the radio because you hope to have a song speak to you. You turn it on to relax and sometimes that’s when it really does speak the most.”

Stairways holds 17th Annual Employee Recognition Celebration

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Blended Case Manager Laurie Bizzarro was honored as the Laura Wallerstein and Jerry Cline Distinguished Service Award winner at Stairways Behavioral Health’s annual employee recognition ceremony Tuesday morning at the Bel-Aire Conference Center.

Employees and guests attended the ceremony to announce the Distinguished Service Award winner and honor those who reached 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35-years-of-service milestones in 2015.

Bizzarro, left, with Stairways case manager team leader Kelly Roberts, became the 25th recipient of the Distinguished Service Award since its inception in 1996. The award, named after Stairways founder Laura Wallerstein and the late Jerry Cline, a longtime human resources director, is bestowed upon the employee who best exemplifies the mission, vision and values of Stairways.

A veteran case manager, Bizzarro often works with transition age youths. Due to her experience and knowledge, she has gained a reputation as a skilled professional throughout the Erie area.

In addition to her duties as case manager, Bizzarro has also made impactful contributions in community outreach by visiting local inpatient hospital units where she explains to people suffering from mental illness the treatment options available at Stairways.

She also organizes a dinner for clients at the Zukor Club each Thanksgiving and has secured substantial donations for Stairways.  

Bizzarro was nominated by four co-workers. Her nomination stated that “Laurie’s natural inclination is always to help people, an endeavor she holds so dearly that she often goes beyond her work requirements to do so.”

Special congratulations also went to Hank Krol (pictured right with Director of Treatment Services Becky Clark) and Tom Kirkwood, who reached 35 and 30 years, respectively, at Stairways. Also among those with special service anniversaries being honored were Dave Neubert and Kathy Thomas-Ibemere, each for 25 years.

Employees celebrating 20 years of service were Edward Cunningham, Chrystal Drain, Lisa Gingenbach, Marilyn Goss, Melanie Hake, Julie Harman, Theresa Jordan, Debbie King, Kevin McCaslin and Jennifer Wright.

Those who reached 15 years of service were Rebecca Clark, Tricia Cloyd, Mary Custer, Ralph Dieter, Joe Hockenberry, Margaret Mechlenburg, Barbara Sala and Sharon Sandberg.

The group who has completed 10 years of employment is Lisa Betts, Kerry Dieter-Roward, William Hilliard, Alicia Hodges, Kathleen Horan, Jill Hughes, Celeste McCallum, Stephanie Montgomery, Stephanie Rice and Edna Stickell.

Donna Bartoo, Kimberlea Casey, Laura Deal, Catherine Fischer, Betty Fleming, Deanna Kosarek, Dr. Meghan McCarthy, Sheila Mooney, Samantha Nichols, Dr. Jason Rock, Rachael Ross, Stephanie Sherman, Patricia Smith, Belinda Stillman and Laura Waugaman composed the group of employees reaching five years of service.

Those who were named Employees of the Month were also recognized at the ceremony: Alfonso Pickens (April); Stephanie Montgomery (May); Joan Rowland (June); Jamey Gamble (July); Debra Sardini (August); John Sushereba (September); Kari Papinchak (October); Josh Thayer (October) and Bev Wright (November).

Stairways was also honored to host founding volunteers Joan and Walter Harf as well as new Board of Directors members Mary Ellen Dahlkemper and the Hon. Ernest J. DiSantis.

Employee Spotlight: Denise Bunner

Monday, March 21, 2016

Denise Bunner’s resume speaks for itself. She spent 15 years as a Psychological Services specialist, 2 and ½ years as a therapist for the Community Abuse Response team (CART) in Meadville and most recently performed therapist duties at Stairways’ Meadville Forensic program since 2013.

Since becoming clinical supervisor for Stairways’ Forensic Outpatient (FOP) program at the start of 2016, Bunner has drawn upon her experience in the mental health field – as well as her expertise as a yoga instructor — to ensure a smooth transition at the helm of FOP.

Bunner intends to operate FOP by using a collaborative effort among staff, other programs and outside partners.

Q: What is a typical day for you? What are your day-to-day functions?

A: There is not really a typical day for me as the Clinical Supervisor.  I try to be prepared for just about any situation that may arise when I am at the Clinic.  I try to be available for questions from all staff members including therapists, medical staff, front end staff, and the forensic contacts in the community.  Our clients are very diverse and have some very complex needs.

Often a staff member just needs to bounce an idea off someone.  I love to listen and be a sounding board. I also want to be available to consult with Program Directors as needed.  I want to be able to communicate questions and answers back and forth among staff as quickly and clearly as possible.

There are a lot of changes taking place at FOP at this time and I want to help make the transition as easy as possible.  Change is never easy for people.  We all like to settle into a routine and operate from a sense of comfortability.  When that sense of comfort is challenged, we may feel off balance.  As a yoga instructor, I try to bring the principles of awareness and acceptance that I use in a Yoga class to my workplace. These Yogic principles give me a sense of inner calmness and I try to extend that inner calmness and balance to the people I work with.

Q: What inherent challenges exist in the recovery for forensics population?

A: The forensic population that we serve at FOP, in many ways, is similar to other mental health clients. 

One of the challenges with this population, however, is their interaction with the legal system. In addition to mental health problems, the forensic population seems to have difficulty overcoming poor decision making and all too often our clients make poor choices in life which ultimately lead to incarceration or supervision in the community. The staff at FOP try to work with the clients’ Probation Officer or Parole Officer to help the client move in a positive, stable direction in life.  Also, some clients may be struggling with an addiction. Addiction combined with mental health problems create some unique and complex obstacles for these individuals to overcome.

The Forensic Program is fortunate to have the Dual Diagnosis Program in the same building.  Our staff is able to consult with the staff of this drug and alcohol program and vice versa.

Q: How does your experience as a therapist serve you in your new role?

A: I was a therapist for the Department of Corrections for 14 years.  I also had the opportunity to visit all the prisons in the State of Pennsylvania as an auditor for the psychology department.  I have learned a great deal about the lifestyles and challenges of offenders.  I have been in a position to help a lot of offenders deal with the problems inherent to incarceration and transitioning back into the community.  When I tell a client that I know what it is like to be incarcerated because I have worked in a prison, I have observed a sense of relief in the client because I can truly relate to their struggle.  I am hoping to be able to communicate to the staff at FOP this understanding in order to help them better serve this population.

Q: What goals you would like to see fulfilled in your new position?

A: One of the goals that I would like to work on is helping those clients with PTSD overcome some of the life altering symptoms that they are unable to cope with as a result of the trauma they have experienced.

The forensic population has a higher than average incidence of PTSD then the general population.  Our clients have endured severe physical, mental, or sexual abuse.  They have watched family members be abused or lose their life to violence.  They have observed drug abuse in the home since early childhood or they themselves may have experienced trauma related to their own drug abuse.  And some of our veterans have had the misfortune of making poor choices as a result of their inability to cope with their PTSD symptoms.

Several of the staff at FOP are being trained by Kevin Berceli , Director of LTSR, in TRE (Trauma Release Exercises) as a way to help our clients learn to deal with their PTSD.  This training began in May of last year and Kevin continues to conduct group supervision with the staff on a monthly basis.   I am also looking forward to an upcoming training on “Trauma Sensitive Yoga.”  Research is beginning to show that people with PTSD are not able to effectively talk about their experiences until they have reconnected their body with their mind. 

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?

A: My favorite part of the job is being able to conduct therapy with a client.  I very much enjoy the interactions that I have with the staff at FOP.  The staff here are outstanding and I appreciate each and every one of them.  Therapy, however, seems to give me a sense of deep satisfaction.  I am very much looking forward to providing Trauma Sensitive Yoga for this population as I truly believe it will be able to lessen some of the devastating symptoms that these individuals endure as a result of trauma.  I have a lot of hope that the forensic clinic will continue to provide the level of service that they have provided since this clinic started in 2009 and that it will be even better in the days to come.

Stairways Behavioral Health names Heather McBrier to executive team

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Stairways welcomes Heather McBrier as our new Business Development Director for BLOOM Collaborative, Stairways' arts and wellness program located at 138 East 26th Street. McBrier joins Stairways' executive team, and will act as project manager with a focus on development, business strategy and sustainability for BLOOM Collaborative's programs and community partnerships.

McBrier holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, finance and marketing from the University of Denver, CO, Daniel's School of Business. Her background and experience is comprehensive, including business analysis, advertising, market research and development. McBrier has been a successful business owner for over 10 years in Erie. Her company, McBrier Events, specializes in fundraising, event management and project management.

McBrier has worked with a number of Erie nonprofit and corporate clients as a full-service project/event manager for conferences, workshops and fundraising events. Clients have included UPMC Hamot Health Foundation, ArtsErie, Peek 'n Peak, Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park, Mercyhurst Preparatory School and Edinboro University.

McBrier has directed Stairways projects in the past, and welcomes this new opportunity to expand her reach and leadership within the agency.

"I believe in Stairways’ mission and its long history of helping individuals become better and live fully in our community. I want to help BLOOM Collaborative and Stairways extend far beyond traditional mental health boundaries," said McBrier.

"BLOOM Collaborative is a wonderful place that inspires clients and the community through healing arts. As we continue to develop strong programs at BLOOM, we are developing a stronger community." 

Stairways Board of Directors Welcomes New Members

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Four new faces recently joined those regularly gathered around the board room table, each bringing a strong history of work with Stairways along with their expertise.

Kate Bender, peer specialist in the mental health community and Employment Outreach Coordinator at the Mental Health Association of NW PA rejoins the board this term.  Kate had been on the Stairways Board of Directors for several years prior to her reappointment. We are so happy to have her back. Kate is the founder of "Freedom of Expression," an organization devoted to the promotion of emerging artists. She brings incredible experience and knowledge, particularly in the arts and mental health concerns.  Her valuable insights at the board table are incalculable.  

Mary Ellen Dahlkemper, former Chief Administrative Officer and board member also returns to us after serving as President of Mercyhurst Preparatory School.  Ms. Dahlkemper has always had great passion and vision for the mission and especially for our clients and the wonderful health care professionals who work so hard to make a difference every day in the lives of our clients. She has a deep knowledge of the organization and was actively involved in bringing forth many exciting initiatives during her tenure at Stairways. Her grace and care in preserving the organization’s mission and history have been so important to us.  We are pleased that she will be sharing her passion again at the board level.

Judge Ernest DiSantis, judge of the Erie County Court of Common Pleas, will also join the Stairways Board of Directors. Judge DiSantis has been involved in assisting persons with mental health care needs through the courtroom for many years. His compassion for the people whom we serve along with his knowledge and skill set will be a great asset to our board.  Judge DiSantis was also a former adjunct professor at Gannon University (Criminal Law and Procedure) for a number of years.  We are delighted to share his expertise in all matters, but especially those concerning clients who are in the prison system.  

Kerry Schwab is the owner of Schwab Hospitality Corporation and former chairperson of the regional Center for Workforce Excellence.  Mr. Schwab has been an active member of the Board of Directors for Opportunities Unlimited of Erie, an affiliate organization of Stairways Behavioral Health, where he has volunteered countless hours and expertise to that mission.  With his strong business background and his passion for assisting persons with mental health care needs, we enthusiastically welcome him to the Stairways Board.

Stairways opens new Outpatient West satellite

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Stairways Behavioral Health’s Erie Outpatient Clinic has opened a new satellite site located inside the main administration building, 2185 W. 8th St.

The new site houses the same functions as the Clinic located at 2910 State Street, including medication management, nursing services as well as group, individual, family and couples therapy. The Outpatient West space will also boast increased handicap accessibility as well as greater convenience for residents of Erie’s west side.

Becky Clark, Stairways’ director of treatment services, said the new westside clinic will offer clients a variety of options for their treatment setting.

“The EOP West Satellite, in addition to being more convenient for individuals who may reside on the west side of Erie, will also provide a smaller, quieter and less busy setting for individuals who may find our traditional outpatient locations overly stimulating,” Clark said. “For folks with intense anxiety, this can make a world of difference. Overall, this will be an opportunity for us to allow individuals more choices in their environments of care.”

Outpatient West will occupy the same space that originally housed Community Integration Inc., a community outpatient mental health provider in the 1990s that helped integrate individuals transitioning from Warren State Hospital into the community during the Erie/Warren project. Community Integration Inc. would later become Safe Harbor Behavioral Health.

Dr. Meghan McCarthy will serve as the on-site physician and will be joined by therapists Melissa Schmidt, Donnelle Super, John Sushereba and Caty Fischer.

Employees of the Month

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Five Stairways Behavioral Health employees were recently recognized as Employees of the Month for their outstanding efforts in fulfilling their professional responsibilities.

Debbie Sardini and John Sushereba earned the honor for August and September, respectively, while Josh Thayer and Kari Papinchak were each recognized in October. Bev Wright is the most recent EOM recipient, having garnered the accolade in November.

For performing a heroic act in a life-threatening situation in which she attended to a client who was suffering from a major seizure, Sardini earned the distinction. While meeting one-on-one at the client’s home, Sardini, a blended case manager, called 911 and provided needed information upon the paramedics’ arrival.

Sushereba, a therapist at Stairways Erie Outpatient clinic, was recognized for having a profound impact in the life of a client. Lead therapist Hank Krol was approached at a job fair in August by a young man who wished to thank Stairways, in particular Sushereba, for helping him through a difficult period in his life.

Thayer, an MIS network technician, received his honor for his part in assisting staff and office moves for the Mobile Medication Monitoring program.

Thayer also arranged for the transfer of electronic and communication devices in a simple way for the staff that would not affect programming. He then trained and acclimated the staff on the new equipment, ensuring that everyone felt comfortable using the new devices.

As a Licensed Practical Nurse at Stairways’ Meadville Outpatient clinic, Papinchak was commended for performing a heroic act in a life-threatening situation when she performed the Heimlich maneuver on the infant daughter of a client. Papinchak was conducting an assessment with the mother when she properly dislodged candy from the 1-year-old’s throat.

Wright, in her role as internal audit manager, was instrumental in helping Stairways convert in its transitions from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) version 9 to ICD10 and from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) IV to DSM V. The conversions required Wright to work with the MIS and clinical departments, and work through any issues that arose during the transition process.

Those working with Wright in particular cited the calm, respectful and patient manner in which she worked during the project.


From left, Debbie Sardini, John Sushereba, Josh Thayer, Bev Wright. (Kari Papinchak not pictured)

Dr. Frank Yohe reflects on career

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

If one thing stands out with Dr. Frank Yohe, it’s his passion for his craft.

“I came to figure out my love of psychiatry,” the Stairways Meadville Outpatient clinic physician says from behind his desk.

Psychiatry, in turn, has been good to Yohe, 63, who retired Nov. 19 after practicing at Stairways’ Meadville Outpatient Clinic since 2000.

Such a union morphed into a career out of one that was already established. Working as a general family practitioner in Kittanning, Pa., Yohe got a taste of psychiatric work while attending to medical problems of individuals on inpatient psychiatric units.

“I just got more and more interested in it and decided to do a residency,” he said.

Upon completing his residency at the University of Pittsburgh in 1986, Yohe relocated to Meadville shortly after.

Since beginning his career, Yohe has witnessed the industry shift from one centered on inpatient hospitalizations as the standard to one more focused on outpatient services, such as those offered at Stairways.

“There are a lot more outpatient services as far as case management and different organizations to help the clients,” Yohe said. “Stairways has just gotten busier all the time and we’ve seen more referrals.”

In addition to his contributions at Stairways, Yohe has worked part-time at the Pennsylvania state prisons at Cambridge Springs and Albion. He also served as an instructor of pharmacology and psychiatry in the Physician Assistant Program at Gannon University for five years, an experience he enjoyed.

“Teaching always sort of keeps you young and it forces you to keep up to date on whatever you’re trying to pass on,” he said.

A large part of the job he tries to pass on is piecing together symptoms to fit the portrait of an illness—even if he doesn’t know what it’s supposed to look like.

“There’s still a lot that we don’t understand about the different illnesses that we treat,” Yohe said. “It’s tough to take people’s brains apart,” he said. “It’s tough to biopsy people’s brains to figure out what’s going on. There's certainly more research in that area, but I still think they have a long way to go."

Yohe cited, in particular, the misunderstanding that is all too often associated with mental illness as an improving but potential area of progress.

“I’d like to see the stigma gone eventually and to see us come up with more effective treatments and better testing,” he said. “There’s some hope that in the future there could be tests out there to help us make different diagnoses. That’s something that’s been totally lacking.”

Yohe noted that he does view a newfound focus on biological factors contributing to mental diagnoses—just as they are used for physical ones—as a welcome advancement.

“We think biology plays a tremendous part but we don’t know for sure,” Yohe said. “Our whole premise of biology on different illnesses like bipolar illness and depression has been predicated on the fact that medicine seemed to work.”

“If we knew exactly what was happening in the brain, why certain illnesses happen, then we might have a leg up in advising new treatments for it,” he added.

Yohe said he will be eager to await new developments in the future while he watches from afar in retirement.

As for his time away from his career, Yohe plans to catch up with his wife of 41 years, Marcia, visit his daughter, Jessica, of Maryland, and son, Chris, who resides in Pittsburgh, and satisfy another one of his passions.

“(I just) want to get caught up on all the jobs around the house so we can travel,” he said.

Education, community outreach key initiatives for Stairways

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

From television commercials to professional development offerings, Stairways Behavioral Health upholds a long tradition of community mental health and wellness education. Two recent examples include a lunch and learn event for staff from two referral sources, and providing panelists for the Oct. 13 Community Care Recovery Conference.

Lunch, Learn and BLOOM

Ten Stairways program directors hosted a Lunch and Learn at BLOOM Collaborative for staff from Saint Vincent Hospital’s inpatient behavioral health program and Safe Harbor Behavioral Health’s Crisis Residential Unit (CRU).

Guests learned about the services and programs offered at Stairways, met with clinical staff from Stairways and toured BLOOM Collaborative’s five-acre wellness campus, getting a taste for its brand of healing arts. Program directors provided overviews of blended case management, mobile medication management, psychiatric rehabilitation and peer support services, as well as Stairways' new Long-term Structured Residence Program.

This meeting of the minds was the brainchild of Stairways Blended Case Manager Laurie Bizzarro, who, as part of her targeted outreach at Saint Vincent, Safe Harbor’s CRU and Millcreek Community Hospital, introduces patients to the programs available upon discharge. This outreach helps individuals to better understand and consider their support options, and aids their conversation with the hospital social workers responsible for external patient referrals.

“The meeting at BLOOM was an opportunity to invite other mental health workers who partner with Stairways services onto BLOOM's beautiful campus, and to continue to work on strong professional bonds with our community providers,” Bizzarro said.

Peers Promoting Wellness

Stairways Certified Peer Specialist, Theresa Abbey, and program director, Marilyn Goss, joined three other community mental health professionals in a panel discussion regarding Recovery and Wellness Strategies in the Community at the Bayfront Convention Center.

As part of the Oct.13 Community Care Recovery Conference: Promoting Wellness to Improve Our Health, these Stairways mental health professionals provided their experience and expertise in focused discussion about the relationship between behavioral health challenges and physical health, how recovery strategies can be used to help with physical health challenges, and the role of behavioral health with physical health.

Goss said that Stairways staff served as an excellent example of the recovery process.

“One of the themes stressed throughout the day was the need for providers to act as role models for recovery to the people receiving services,” she said. “It was exciting to be able to share Stairways' recovery initiatives and to discuss how we are empowering our staff to do just that.”

It was clear from the conference that peer specialists continue to play an important role in the recovery movement, added Stairways Director of Treatment Services Becky Clark, LCSW, CPRP.

“The morning sessions focused on the myriad wellness domains one can struggle with - for all of us, but particularly folks served by Stairways services,” she said. “Since Stairways was invited to participate in this regional conference, it's clear that the system that funds the majority of our services, both Community Care Behavioral Health and the Erie County Department of Human Services, continues to support meaningful peer services in helping to promote overall wellness, which will help Stairways continue to pursue our mission." 

Employees of the Months: Jamey Gamble and Joan Rowland

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Joan Rowland, a certified registered nurse practitioner at Stairways’ Forensic Outpatient clinic, was named June Employee of the Month while Jamey Gamble, a network administrator, earned the distinction for July.

Rowland was acknowledged for her overall job performance and willingness to go above and beyond the expectations of an employee. She often comes in early, stays late and sacrifices her lunch break to better accommodate clients.

In addition, Rowland also offers help feeding clients who are in need of food by keeping a supply of nonperishable items for anyone who is struggling with meals.

Gamble received credit for the work he has done in ensuring that Stairways received requested funding from Erie County for IT equipment.

Gamble supplied information timely and accurately and kept detailed records. When funding for the equipment was approved on June 29, Jamey was able to order all the equipment needed for the agency under very tight time restrictions.

Rowland and Gamble were both bestowed the award at a Stairways’ Board of Directors meeting in late July.

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