Today I was in an all day training sponsored by Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division called NIATx. It is intended to help introduce rapid changes into the substance abuse/mental health programming offered in Milwaukee County. It brought together consumers, peer specialists and clinical staff. Surprisingly I found that a peer specialist with my former agency had been hired to work in a targeted case management program. We did not really get along together but what was interesting was that we ended up seeking a change from the kind of peer support we had been offering. I told him that frankly I wanted to influence the thinking of case managers.
As a bonus I also met with a consumer with my agency and told her I was glad she had attended the event and I wanted her to feel her ideas were welcomed. I talked with her about the difference between the community support program and targeted case management. And I mentioned the new community linkages and support program and the comprehensive recovery services which Milwaukee County may begin offering to consumers. Community linkages will be provided through an agency called LaCausa to reach people with recent in patient mental health treatment. Milwaukee County has taken steps to reduce the number of rapid re-hospitalizations people experience.
It is my belief that the system can be reformed to begin including peer run services. At the training I was told there is a peer run targeted case management agency in Dane County called SOAR. The nurses, psychiatrists, peer specialists and others one encounters have all been consumers of mental health services. Why shouldn’t we be able to do something like that in Milwaukee County? And at some point, can’t we look at other peer driven services as an addition to what we are offering people? In our traditional way of thinking we are told to expect scarcity and that we can have services run by clinicians or services run by peers but not both. If I’m a change agent, why can’t I promote both types of service delivery systems?
Since I was at that meeting I have met people who are working with SOAR. One of the Grassroots Empowerment Project board members works with SOAR. She told me that the agency has an excellent racial diversity. When I was on Linked In, I met someone who had recently been hired by the agency. It would be an excellent idea to visit SOAR and explore how they work and whether their model could be adapted here.
My ideas continue to evolve. In the new model of strength based mental health we use the stages of change to look at whether the people we are assisting have have decided whether and where to make changes. Two of the main areas involve education and employment. I find so many people who dropped out of high school and have slowly begun going back to school. One of my prize pupils is taking notes, studying, going to classes and making me proud. I have some more at potential students who are taking placement tests and talking with me about enrolling. I may have many students by the time I reach my one year anniversary with out agency.
Similarly, I have people who have survived the DVR waiting period and are now ready to develop employment plans. This will improve my credentials as a change agent. The road will be uneven and steep but the rewards will be many. Forward. This is not your father’s mental health system. This is ours.