One year ago, ServiceNet was awarded three contracts through the Department of Mental Health to replace the existing contracts that funded Mental Health Residential and Support Services. Across the Commonwealth, vendors who received these contracts, called Community-Based Flexible Supports (CBFS), began to gear up to transform their service delivery systems to meet the challenges of promoting true mental health recovery. While the former mental health system of care was designed to correct the injustices of locking up patients for many years in hospitals for no other reason than they had a mental illness, it inadvertently promoted dependence, allowed clients to simply cope without thriving, and continued to accentuate the individuals’ deficits instead of recognizing resilience and building on strengths. Advocates of the mental health recovery movement said there was more to life for those with mental illness than just getting by, and the Department of Mental Health responded with CBFS.
Over the past year, the successes have been many. The three contracts increased the number of program participants from 170 to 545 the majority of whom live independently in the community. One of the three contracts, the only program of its kind in the state, is a unique, stand alone Transition Age Youth program serving up to 60 young adults, ages 18-25. To adequately serve over 500 individuals, a total of 8 new Flexible Support Teams providing outreach were created, and through a year long process of training, Residential Counselors were transformed into Recovery Counselors, Wellness Specialists, Transition Counselors and Employment Specialists. The number of 24 hour residential beds was decreased from 44 to only 23 needing 24 hour treatment, and 9 requiring only 16 hour staff supervision each day. Acquisition of the contracts and purchases of new housing greatly expanded the pool of available housing for participants supporting their living in the type of housing desired in the community of their choice. Four new Community Expressions Centers in Greenfield, Amherst, North Quabbin and later this fall in Florence, provide a community setting for participants to attend recovery-oriented groups, participate in expressive arts groups, and engage in activities promoting recovery. Participants of services now work as “peers” supporting one another as Peer Mentors, or working as receptionists for the teams, or as Peer Transportation Specialists in the new MHRS Transportation service. More and more participants are finding success and hope as they acquire competitive employment in community jobs in spite of a floundering economy. Multiple wellness initiatives have provided participants with a reason to eat healthier, increase their activity and exercise, engage in weight management programs, tackle multiple medical problems and stop smoking – in essence addressing the many things that adversely impact and un-necessarily shorten the lives of those we serve.
Looking ahead MHRS will now turn its attention on measuring the quality of the interventions and strategies we utilize to assist those in mental health recovery. While we have evidence that participants are making great strides in gaining self-direction and taking more responsibility, experiencing community integration, feeling empowered, taking more risks in spite of a serious illness, and assisting one another more and more, we will be exploring ways to understand what is working – what is clinically therapeutic, are rehabilitation and person-centered care really making a difference, and in what ways are recovery-oriented strategies and interventions improving the lives of each and every program participant.