Mental Health Professionals blog

AA Conference an eye-opening experience

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Stairways Behavioral Health residential program recently took part in what was, from all accounts, a meaningful field trip.

Residents of Gage House, a structured setting for people with substance and mental health issues, attended the Alcoholics Anonymous Erie Spring Conference at the Ambassador Center April 15-17.

Each year, the conference offers those in attendance the opportunity to hear renowned speakers, attend meetings and social events and share experiences with other attendees. Consumers were also able to exchange information for sponsors and support contacts.

Gage House residents were effusive in their praise of the event, citing the "sober dance" on Saturday night and the speakers as the most valuable parts of the conference.

Below are reflection excerpts by Gage House residents who attended the conference:

… I never laughed so hard when sober, then cried at the same time. I felt the same exact feelings, I’ve been in the same exact positions, lost the same things, lost family’s trust and broke promises to my daughter! I realized that I need to mature in so many ways, I need to not be selfish, I need to look at all angles, inside and outside the box, look at other people’s sides, put myself in their shoes and look through their eyes.

… I learned that addiction transcends age, race, nationality, sexual orientation and class. I also learned that I have been feeling sorry for myself. I have been justifying my drug use with the excuse of pain and anxiety. I see now that I am blessed in many ways.

… I do believe the program works! The speakers all had the same feelings, defects and struggles (to one extent or another) as me!

The stories confirmed my faith and gave me motivation. Let me know I’m on the right path. I’m so thankful I got to go with the Gage House. I loved every second.

… It is so awesome that you can meet people from all over and you can relate to their stories. The last day of the conference, I feel like I had the biggest breakthrough in my recovery process yet when I heard the second speaker. It was like she was telling my story. I am so blessed that I got to go to the conference, because I felt like I needed to be there to hear these speakers that touched my heart tremendously.

Black History Month: Creating Awareness for Mental Health Needs in African-American Populations

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The following feature and written by Nick Kicior, Outcomes Director at Journey Health System, the support corporation of Stairways Behavioral Health. As we enter Black History Month, Kicior provides compelling reminders for the importance of doing what we can to make ourselves knowledgeable and easily accessible to assist with the issues impacting the African American community.

As we continue to provide individualized, quality care to all of our consumers and their families, it is extremely critical that we become proficient with many diagnoses, environments and, ultimately, cultures. As we look to celebrate diversity and promote ourselves as safe, healing, and empathetic practitioners of recovery, learning more and more about the people and places around us becomes imperative.

Black History Month is an integral part of our nation’s tradition in which we continue to promote positive examples of poignant historical events, exemplary leaders and steps towards societal change. This remembrance is not only deeply meaningful for the African American community, but imperative for the greater understanding of national and world history.

Understanding the statistics regarding mental health and the Black community only make it more important that we do what we can to make ourselves knowledgeable and easily accessible to assist with the issues impacting this community:

  • According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.
  • Only about one-quarter of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of whites for a variety of reasons that include distrust, misdiagnosis, stigma, socio-economic factors, a lack of Black mental health professionals, and more.
  • Historically, African Americans have been and continue to be negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the health care system. Misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and lack of cultural competence by health professionals breed distrust and prevent many African Americans from seeking or staying in treatment.
  • Additionally, the stigma within the Black community makes it less likely an individual will seek treatment earlier on, often times exacerbating the condition at the time of treatment.
  • Homelessness, exposure to violence and trauma and other factors hit the black community harder than others. These combined with 19% of African Americans having no form of health insurance, makes it harder for treatment to get to these individuals in need.
  • Only 3.7% of members in the American Psychiatric Association and 1.5% of members in the American Psychological Association are African American. Bringing more leadership into these areas to represent the needs of communities will assist with bringing more attention to these areas.

Take a moment to explore Black history and become more familiar with things you may not know. It is important that we reflect and celebrate the monumental contributions and use them as a platform for future growth.

Five Reasons to Celebrate Black History Month:

  1. Celebrating Black History Month honors the historic leaders of the Black community.
  2. Celebrating Black History Month helps us to be better stewards of the privileges we’ve gained.
  3. Celebrating Black History month provides an opportunity to highlight the rest of Black history & culture.
  4. Celebrating Black History Month creates awareness for all people.
  5. Celebrating Black History Month reminds us all that Black history is the history of us all.

Written by Nick Kicior, Journey Health System Outcomes Director

Pennsylvania Celebrates Fairweather Lodge Day

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Note: This story is the first in a two-part series about the Fairweather Lodge program, written by Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (PRS) interns Brooke Bateman and Laurel Geer from Gannon University's Occupational Therapy program.

To honor the life and contributions of Dr. George William Fairweather, founder of the Fairweather Lodge (FWL) Program, the Pennsylvania General Assembly of the Senate and House of Representatives recently adopted resolutions to designate Sept. 25, 2015, as Fairweather Lodge Day.

This day recognizes Dr. Fairweather's efforts in developing a program that allows individuals with mental illness to take an active role in their recovery through community living, and also raises awareness for and acknowledges the many people who work together to make the FWL program a reality.

After devoting his life to integrating individuals with mental illness into the community, Dr. Fairweather died in January at the age of 93. To commemorate the man and his vision, several Stairways Behavioral Health Fairweather Lodge members and employees participated in the 31st Annual Fairweather Lodge Conference from Sept. 23-25 in Pittsburgh. 

About the Fairweather Lodge Program

The Fairweather Lodge Program was developed in 1963 to encourage homeless individuals who have a mental illness to be active in their recovery through a peer-supported, community-based, residential and work environment. The program was designed as a community living lodge to emphasize interdependence. People in the program live together, work together, and learn the skills necessary to function in a peer-supported environment.

In the FWL model, members have a say in the program, can live autonomously, have opportunities for advancement and fulfill expected social roles.  Together, these are factors that promote one of the aims of the FWL Program: to combat stigma associated with mental illness. Staff provide training, help the peer group to function well, offer individual and group support, and collaborates on individual goals. At Stairways, these functions are carried out by FWL management and PRS staff.

Eight concepts provide a foundation for the program and fidelity to the FWL model:

  • Provide a safe environment.
  • Promote good health and symptom management.
  • Provide long-term services for those who need it.
  • Promote productive work.
  • Create meaningful social roles.
  • Provide community culture resembling a healthy family.
  • Work to promote independence/interdependence.
  • Create and secure multiple resources.

Fairweather Lodge at Stairways

Tina Loomis is a PRS Clinical Supervisor and veteran manager of FWL. Kim Stucke, Stairways Chief Development Officer, helped get the program started in Erie and across the Commonwealth, and continues to provide administrative and funding support.

Stairways’ FWL Program started in 1999 with one lodge. “Five members were interviewed and then started their own janitorial business with a contract through Stairways,” Loomis said. At one point, the program had 57 members, and by 2005 it had 23 work contracts. Presently, there are seven lodges with a total of 41 members, including a 12-member Training Lodge, where members are provided with skill-building services through PRS as well as other support services.

After graduating from the Training Lodge, members move to permanent lodges or to other community housing. Permanent lodge members may or may not receive services, but are still FWL members and are supported by FWL/PRS staff  Tammy Young, Joe Crotty, and Amanda Ferguson. The FWL Program currently has one work contract through Opportunities Unlimited of Erie and many FWL members work in competitive employment in the Erie community.

For Loomis, the most important outcome of the program is that “individuals move from the (Training) lodge to independent living in the community and sustain their lives how they see fit. (The FWL program) helps them to get back a sense of themselves and realize they have power; it helps the powerless feel powerful again.”

As the FWL Manager/Coordinator, Tammy Young provides programmatic and direct recovery-oriented services.  She manages daily operations, interviews people who are interested in FWL, coordinates team meetings, communicates with community partners, provides support for social interaction and conflict resolution, and works with members individually to set and reach their goals.

“The lodge gives them a secure place to be, a sense of belonging so they can have all their basic needs met,” Young said. “They are able to grow personally, find meaningful activity, find out who they are, and learn skills that they need to live independently. For those who are ready for the program, the success rate is huge. We look at the person as a whole and give them the opportunities and tools to be what they need to be independent.”

Joe Crotty oversees the vocational side of the FWL Program and works with Young and the SBH property management team to support day-to-day Lodge programming for all seven lodges. He has worked with FWL Program intermittently for 10 years. For Crotty, the most important outcome of the program is its “individual personal growth.”

According to Joe, “The most important thing the lodge does for members," Crotty said, "is that it provides an environment and support, simultaneously, for individuals at imminent risk to prevent homelessness from occurring.

"It attempts to address skill-building and supports connection, as natural supports for the individual provide stability where there was not before.”

Above, right: Kim Stucke, Stairways Chief Development Officer and co-chair of the Coalition for Community Living, left, stands with the late Dr. George William "Bill" Fairweather, founder of the Fairweather model, during his visit to Stairways' lodge.

Next month: Hear from local, individual FWL members, in their own words

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