Employee Awards and Accolades

Curtis and Catledge named Employees of the Month

Thursday, March 16, 2017

John Curtis and Natasha Catledge have been recognized as the Stairways employees of the month for January and February.

Curtis helped de-escalate a potentially difficult situation involving a client while attending the front desk at Stairways Forensic Outpatient Clinic. FOP operations manager Connie Weaver-Sauers nominated Curtis for the honor.

Catledge was also credited for performing a heroic act when she assisted a client whom she suspected of overdosing.

While visiting with the client, Catledge, a rehabilitation specialist in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation, observed that they were unable to stand or speak. She immediately called Stairways’ Mobile Medication Management program for assistance and then 911 despite the client’s protests.

While being transported to the hospital, the client stopped breathing and needed resusication. Without Catledge’s foresight and action, the individual may not have survived.

Fairweather Lodge supervisor Tina Loomis nominated Catledge for the recognition.

Employee of the Month: Jessica Peterman

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jessica Peterman, a Blended Case Manager, was recognized as the Stairways Behavioral Health August Employee of the Month for performing a life-saving act.

Peterman intervened when a client began showing suicidal signs following a relapse after years of sobriety. Peterman noted the client’s struggling and continually offered help with mental health and substance abuse treatment, despite being met with refusal each time.

Over a period of three weeks, the client became despondent, began drinking in excess and declined her medications. Eventually, she began making suicidal statements, at which time Peterman contacted crisis services and called 911.

When they arrived, the client said she had ingested large amounts of prescription medication and alcohol. She was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit for a near fatal suicide attempt and given Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of an overdose.

Following her release from the hospital, Peterman has continued to help the client strive for sobriety by always encouraging her to seek treatment and maintain hope.

Peterman's compassion and dedication are valued standards shared by all of Stairways’ devoted staff members.

Gage House staff members recognized for life-saving act

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Phillip Livingston, Joshua Stepp and Kayla Birk were named March Employees of the Month for performing a life-saving act on an unresponsive client.

On a March evening, a client at Gage House had a seizure, lost consciousness and stopped breathing when Stepp, Birk and Livingston (pictured below, left to right) intervened to assist the individual.

Birk alerted police of an emergency by pressing the panic buttons and helped to keep other clients calm while Stepp called 911. Livingston assessed the client and provided her with a clear airway that restored breathing. The client was then transported by ambulance to the hospital.

Following the event, Livingston informed other Gage residents of the occurrence. Despite the emotional difficulty of the incident, Livingston Birk and Stepp’s focus was always on the clients at Gage House.

Thanks to quick thinking and emergency preparedness, the client survived their attack and was stabilized.

Gage House is a structured program that provides rehabilitation and habilitation services to individuals who are in need of treatment to address co-occuring substance abuse and mental health issues.

Livingston is a clinical care specialist at Gage House. Stepp and Birk are part-time aides at the residential facility.

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.”

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 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.

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)

Stairways holds inaugural employee picnic

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Employee Waldameer Picnic

About 1,000 employees and their family members from Stairways Behavioral Health and Beacon Light Behavioral Health Systems attended the inaugural employee picnic at Waldameer Park and Water World under sunny skies Saturday, Aug. 1.

Staff from each affiliate agency had the opportunity to bond and build camaraderie with each other while enjoying an Erie summertime landmark.

Employees had the opportunity to socialize and dine at the food pavilion as well as enjoy the park’s attractions and entertainment offerings.

McCarthy reflects on career

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The walls of Bill McCarthy’s first-floor office are conspicuously devoid of adornments typical of a chief executive save for a pair of small placards strategically placed near Stairways Behavioral Heath’s president and CEO’s desk.

Their absence is not in anticipation of McCarthy’s impending retirement and the vacancy he will leave at the organization upon the end of the year. To be precise, awards and accolades have rarely ever enjoyed a prominent appointment in McCarthy’s office.

Instead, two signs that convey the simple philosophy McCarthy has tried to abide by are situated in their place.

“I am still learning,” reads a sign that sits on McCarthy’s desk, while the other depicts the oft-cited Winston Churchill quote “Never, never, never give up.” The words serve not just as motivation, but offer a built-in defense for the man whose office they reside.

“When people tell me I’ve screwed up or didn’t do something right, I tell them ‘This is the first time I’ve ever had this job, I’m still learning,” McCarthy says with a laugh.

If McCarthy’s ever wanted to learn, he’s just had to draw from his own wealth of experience—more than four decades worth. 

It was during a recent trip to Warren State Hospital— a place McCarthy currently serves as vice chair of the board and will assume the chair position next year—that McCarthy became awash in memories and reflections.

“When I started, Warren State Hospital was really a small village,” he says. “I remember seeing tractors out on the fields harvesting crops because they grew their own food and the doctors lived with their families on the grounds.”

The mental healthcare being offered has a significantly different look as well.

Mental Illness was, in many respects, the last health treatment to utilize an asylum model, McCarthy notes. A long-term hospital not only offered patients a place to remove themselves in an effort to recover, but was also a way to remove them from the rest of society.

“This is the first time I've ever had this job, I'm still learning."

In a way, McCarthy’s career has marked the time of the evolution of the mental health approach.

McCarthy began his career while in college as a houseparent at Sarah Reed Children’s Center, a position he credits for opening his eyes to “the humanity field.”

“I became smitten with the field of helping people,” he recalled, noting in his typical understated wit that he was unsure of his career path before holding this job. “I was originally interested in law, then archeology and anthropology, but it then became a question of ‘do I want to work with dea­­­­d skeletons of people or with people?’”

His uncertainty proved to be temporary, however, as he joined Stairways shortly after college in 1973. As part of a 16-person staff charged with helping a few hundred clients reintegrate into the community, McCarthy found himself addressing the common human issues with the people he served.

“As medicine got better, it opened up doors for people to leave the state hospitals, but where do they go (from there)?” McCarthy, who then worked at Community Care, a 40-bed residential site located at East 7th and French streets, said. “The house we ran really responded to the question ‘What do people want?’ Do they want a job? Do they want to fall in love? Do they want a place to live?

“The programs developed at that time were really to help people with those needs in their lives.”

It was also at this time that McCarthy realized the need for acceptance that is common among all people.

"I learned kindness is free and ought to be dispensed all the time," McCarthy said. "There is no substitute - you can be smart and tough but kindness is what is craved and needed by everyone you meet."

What initially began as an intended two-year stint at Stairways soon took on its own life for McCarthy.

He served as supervisor of Residential Services for five years, held the assistant executive director post for 15 years and eventually assumed CEO and president duties in 1998 at age 50.

During his tenure, McCarthy has seen Stairways grow from a modest operation into a 400-employee, 10,000-client outfit that is in the final stages of an affiliation to make it the most comprehensive behavioral health service provider in the Northwestern Pennsylvania.

For McCarthy, the growth is a testament to the organization’s unique marriage of compassion and resiliency.

“We are a soft company in that we provide great safety and compassion, yet we are tough,” McCarthy said. “We have gone through some major battles over the years and survived.

“It’s one thing to be magnanimous when everything is going right, but when things aren’t going well, how do you respond? That’s one of the things we want to demonstrate to our clients and live by ourselves. I think the fact that we’re over 50 years-old and still so relevant that we were the first organization to be bold enough to pursue such an affiliation shows how tough we are and that we can be relevant for another 50 years.”

McCarthy’s influence at Stairways can be easily observed in a number of different ways, and even extends to his family, as his daughter, Dr. Meghan McCarthy, has followed in his footsteps as well. Meghan serves as a physician at Stairways' Erie Outpatient Clinic.

Though he will soon abandon his position, McCarthy has no plans of doing the same to the organization that has provided him with not just a vocational role, but an identifying one as well.

“It’s like a childhood home that you drive by and have to look into the windows.”

For McCarthy, the view has always been of Stairways.

Stairways, BLOOM rock The Color Run

Monday, September 08, 2014


          From left, Lee Steadman, Director, BLOOM Collaborative, Dr. Meghan McCarthy, physician, and Jennifer Valerio, Stairways   fiscal manager, represented BLOOM by participating in Erie's first Color Run Aug. 9. 

Thousands of smiling runners caught yellow fever—as well as red, purple, pink and blue—at the Color Run in downtown Erie in early August, and BLOOM Collaborative, a program of Stairways Behavioral Health, was in the middle of all the shenanigans.

The Color Run, a nationally recognized paint race billed as the “happiest 5k on the planet” in which runners are showered with colored powder, attracted nearly 11,000 participants for its first race in Erie on Aug. 9. As one of five main sponsors, BLOOM operated the yellow “color zone,” where volunteers doused passing participants head to toe in yellow cornstarch while dusting the corner of West 10th and Cherry streets in a powdery coat in the process.

Upon the race’s conclusion at Perry Square, the color-coated runners continued the festivities by dancing to music and absorbing even more color sprayed out over the crowd. BLOOM helped add to the excitement by handing out more than 1,000 beach balls at its tent in Perry Square.

Volunteers for the event included employees and friends from BLOOM and Stairways, while three employees and a client also represented BLOOM as participants in the race.


Left: Volunteer color throwers were a vital part of the run's success.     Right: BLOOM Collaborative's tent located in Perry Square

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