Helping our allies

many different colors


When I returned to the website of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee I saw information about events that the church made been organizing around the issue of Black Lives Matter. And so I felt more motivated. And I went for a walk.   I had read that everything political starts with a personal choice. There was a movie on PBS by a man who lost his father to diabetes and his father was around my age. My heart skips a beat when I hear that people in my age group are dying from preventable diseases. The best way I can act as if I believe my my matters is my taking care of it.


Today I am proud to say I met my fitness goals. I am taking good care of the body my parents gave me. Almost as important, I sent a text message to a dear friend whose support helped me through a difficult time in my life. I said never underestimate the power of friendship. Patricia Raybon talked about the need for interracial friendships. I think this is something we need throughout our lives. We must maintain empathy for people who look and speak differently from ourselves.

It is true that we share different parts of ourselves with the people we meet. At the all black office where I am located most of the time, I talk with them about the Fondy Market a place where we can meet positive people including those who look like us. This is important because unfortunately in mental health, we are often dealing with people who are at their worst. That is why we need their help.

At the church I am a quirky older man who pops in once in a blue moon.

But what  am I to you and why are you reading me?


At the mental health and substance abuse conference, part deux

I am a veterans of these conferences held in Wisconsin Dells and organized for mental health and substance abuse professionals and consumers. The room I am occupying is more like a small conference suite with a bedroom and a meeting area with a full kitchen, There are two TVs:one in the living room and one in the bedroom. This is certainly an upgrade from the room at Chula Vista where I stayed for a Grassroots Empowerment Conference. At the Chula, the rooms were much smaller and there was a roommate.

I was here last year for a conference and did a lot of thing that made my stay a lot less comfortable. But i have learned. I am a veterans. And things are going well. i believe i have recruited the second member of my peer support specialist team at our agency. We will need at least one more person especially to help cope with the increased demand that will be generated by the Comprehensive Community Services.

I have witnessed the power of a strong team of certified peer specialists helping to spur the Our Space, Inc. residential programs that they staff. And I have also seen the peer support staff at La Causa which operates the Community Linkage and Support Program. Our agency will be the only one to fully integrate peer support within a case management program. And that will make us stand out from the others.

I want to see peer support and case management have a happy marriage. maybe even change the whole nature of the relationship between agencies and consumers. i want to see people getting the assistance to which they are entitled. And I want us to help people we are assisting become their own peer specialists. Who thinks this is a good idea?

Need more flexibility here, brain

The video we had at work did not include any time for a discussion period, which is the drawback of these types of activities. You go someplace, listen to someone drone on and then leave. The few times that you may ask a question, the lecturer gives you this look like you know you’re preventing me from completing my presentation so just shut up.

Discussion periods help you engage your brain as you absorb the information you’ve just heard. I remember that I often became restless or bored when I had to sit through classes where very little interaction was permitted between classmates. So discussions are often derided as so called rap sessions. Ideally, in an hour presentation, there ought to be room for 15 minutes worth of questions and answers interspersed.

That way, we no longer feel as though we’re being treated as empty bowls to be filled up. My gauge of listening versus not listening moves very quickly. Is the object of the presentations to prove to some outside agencies that we learned something or to have actual learning experiences? In a non-interactive presentation, I was there, I received my attendance certificate, but I probably couldn’t tell you half of what I was told.




How can we stay safe?

I had a variety of emotions yesterday that took me all over the place. I wrote a rather bizarre story about my mother ordering my siblings and me from the Sears catalog. It was a true story but there were a lot of details left out. A lot of Sunday focused on the tragedy in Newtown, and the president’s response.  I saw a youtube video after reading several positive reviews on twitter.

I had looked for the speech before I realized I had a copy. I had many mixed emotions about the speech and the powerful of the President’s spirituality. He connects to people in a way that is very moving and feels genuine. And I started saying to myself there was no one else who could have given that speech. We have a horror in this country at the same time more people are buying more guns with higher capacity ammunition. We have unending stories of massacres and smaller scale murder suicides involving abusive men and their loved ones. We also have random acts of violence in which people shoot complete strangers. The common factor is that we resolve our problems through acts of violence.

The president said that this must end. That is true. We must work on an interpersonal level to end violence, we must restrain the police from inflicting violence upon the people who they believe may have committed crimes and we must work as a nation to resolve our differences with other nations without resorting to violence. We can and we must do better.


My new role

I’m not satisfied. And anyone who knows me should understand that. But there are questions floating around. What are consumer affairs? What do they entail? Are they patients advocates? How many will the budget allow? Is there a vision for what this office should be? Whose input  is allowed?  did anyone order Merlot for the meeting?

Obviously the WordPress is confused by me because they can’t figure out whether they should send me information about Merlot. And since I haven’t introduced the concept of peer support to this discussion, they haven’t sent me a link about that idea yet. Never fear, dear reader, (I figure there are 1 or 2 of around) for that is precisely what this rant is about.

For persons outside of Milwaukee, let me fill  you in. The Office of Consumer Affairs at the Milwaukee Mental Health Complex is operated by a different agency for the first time in several years. The question is, what do we want different from the way things had been run? When I started a few weeks ago, I helped introduce the idea of nights and weekend hours for peer support. There is a small group of us who are working on the different wards. Being naturally curious, I wondered about the planned discharge dates for some of the people we were assisting. I was told those kinds of decisions are made on first shift and since we were all second shifters, we didn’t need to worry out pretty little heads about that.

But does that make since to you? Wouldn’t you want to know what was going on and possibly even have input input into the decisions? When I see a person who says he thinks he will be leaving by a certain date and the date passes and he’s still there I wonder what’s going on? Does he need our help at this point? Are we hindering him from getting on with his life? Is there a plan?

So, I’m making money, things seem to have changed but since I understand I’m supposed to stir things up, am I really having an impact? The local oddballs group to which I belong is always on my back for results. If they weren’t so strange, they would know what we’re achieving.

A few months have passed since I originally wrote this blog post. We have had an impact. We are referring people to a program called CLASP which is designed to assist people with repeat hospitalizations. I’ve made some successful referrals to the program. I switched wards. The first ward I was working had too many violent incidents which proved unsafe for me. The staff seemed under siege. I did have some successes and even after I changed wards, the staff on my old ward want me to return.

Another thing I have noticed is the need for housing. WE have people who could be returned to the community but we have not been able to find as place for them. This is an ongoing issue. I wonder how many housing providers have been contacted?

The third and most puzzling issue is that sometimes very competent African-Americans have ended up on my ward, people who you would have never expected to be hospitalized. This makes me curious.


Beware, I am a billable service


There is the old saying, be careful what you ask for, because you just might get what you want. Throughout much of my career as a peer support specialist I have been funded by grants, while at the same time wondering about the mysterious world of “fees for services.” I first encountered fees for services back in the 90s when I was working for a small organization the Dr. Howard L. Fuller Education Foundation that I co-founded. It operated in a small Baptist church with an ambitious minister.  And it was located in Metcalfe Park, one of of the poorest communities in Milwaukee.

We developed relationships with the nearby public school and community organizations with whom we soon became rivals. We developed a child care center to assist our families many of whom were subject to Wisconsin Works, or W-2 which replaced welfare. At first we contracted with a day care organization to administer our center but soon took over the operation and were responsible for submitting the forms to Milwaukee County. It was the heady world of fees for services in which we were quickly immersed and equaling our grant funding.

Flash forward to 2005 and beyond when I had started working as a peer support specialist. And one of our questions in public gatherings was, why are we being paid so little? And one of the answers was: “we need to be able to bill Medicaid for peer support.” Flashing (pull you skirt down) down to 2012 and here I am working with an agency contracting with Milwaukee County. I already marveled about how they met my salary demands, well, wouldn’t you know? They can bill for my services. Get out of town, really?

But remember, I said be care of what you ask for. I had dreamed of Medicaid or some other agency paying for my work. When you are billable you are a part of the system, a vital cog, like psychiatrist or a social worker. You are a part of the team. You are significant. And by the way, you are accountable. As I was told by this little cute woman who recruited me to the agency. So beyond the yellow brick road of earning more than $12 per hour is a world of documentation, spell checking, accountability and interacting with peers. It is not a world of day dreaming. But for those who are ready, Labor Day is your next paid holiday.