Rooted In Community: Reflecting on Blackburn Center's First Month

Aug 06, 2019

It's been just over a month since Central City Concern started serving patients and residents at Blackburn Center, our newest community health center site with integrated housing and employment services. For our second National Health Center Week post, we asked Dr. Eowyn Rieke, director of Blackburn services, to reflect on its first few weeks serving the community. Here, she reflects on the impact they're beginning to make and her hopes for how Blackburn Center will deepen its roots in the surrounding community.

• • •

It was Wednesday, July 3 — just the second day of services at Central City Concern’s Blackburn Center. I was walking around our newly opened clinic lobby in an effort to connect in person with new clients to welcome and thank them for coming in. One of the first clients I spoke with said to me, “I can’t believe all these services are in the same place. I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here.” We were offering her primary care, medication for substance use, and mental health care, with the hope for a placement in housing once she was in substance use treatment.

“It is too bad you have to be poor to get these services. I used to have private insurance and I never got care this good,” another client told me. He was at Blackburn Center to receive intensive substance use treatment and physical health care services and planning to connect with employment services soon.

And another new client, referred to Blackburn Center from CCC’s Hooper Detox, confided, “I knew I needed a primary care provider but I didn’t know how to get one. Then I went to Hooper and everything started to fall in to place.”

These clients represent several of our core principles at Blackburn Center: client-centered care and integration, with a focus on meeting clients where they are and offering an array of services, all focused on helping them move forward in their lives.

"I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here.”

My colleagues and I spent a few years dreaming about these services and how we’d deliver them, and worked remarkably hard to design them. A month ago, we finally opened our doors to serve the community. In our first month we’ve served 450 people across Blackburn Center’s housing, health care and employment services. Some of our most significant accomplishments since we opened include:

  • Successfully moving our Eastside Concern outpatient program to Blackburn Center, with its staff making incredible efforts to complete assessments for new housing residents referred from Hooper Detox
  • Getting 33 of our 34 permanent homes occupied
  • Getting 33 of our 80 transitional housing units occupied, with new residents coming from a wide range of referral partners in the community, including Women’s First, NARA, CODA and Multnomah County, as well as CCC’s own Hooper Detox, Puentes and Blackburn substance use disorder programs
  • Serving more than 100 new clients with primary care services
  • 90 referrals to employment services
  • Enrolling 20 new clients in our low-barrier Suboxone program
  • Managing the Recuperative Care Program’s (RCP) move from downtown Portland into Blackburn Center and admitting many new residents each week while RCP staff continue to provide excellent care and case management

As the director of Blackburn Center, one of the things that excites me most — one of the clearest visions for Blackburn Center that we’ve carried since we started dreaming of the building — is its eventual role in the community as a hub of activity for our neighbors and clients: a place people can come to get a wide array of health services, as well as a space to host community events that bring people together to share their joys and struggles.

While the building itself is beautiful, and our services have already kept us busy, I look forward to inviting even more stories, struggles and victories into Blackburn Center. One of the ways we’ll start doing that soon is by hosting many community-based recovery groups in our Weinberg Community Room, an open and light-filled gathering space on the building’s first floor. These groups will be open to the community and will offer new opportunities for people in recovery to gather and support each other in their East Portland neighborhood.

... one of the things that excites me most — one of the clearest visions for Blackburn Center that we’ve carried since we started dreaming of the building — is its eventual role in the community as a hub of activity for our neighbors and clients...

Our first month of Blackburn Center was focused on getting our services up and running; now we turn our attention to building and deepening our relationships with community groups to work toward our ultimate goal of ending homelessness. We work closely with health and social service organizations also doing work in East Portland, including Bridges to Change, Multnomah County and Transition Projects. Working together, we can strengthen the safety net for people experiencing homelessness and build new opportunities for them to move into housing and more stable lives. We will also open mental health services in the next few months to meet the needs of our community members struggling with severe mental illnesses.

Every connection we make is one string in a web that supports our neighbors. We look forward to many years working with partners to build a strong net that helps all of us build healthier community.



Rooted in Community: Old Town Clinic

Aug 05, 2019

For 40 years, Central City Concern (CCC) has been caring for people in Portland who are impacted by homelessness. In the late 1970s, we offered recovery treatment with housing, which was a new but logical approach: it’s easier for people to get better if they have a place to live. This was the beginning of CCC’s deep roots in the Portland community that expanded through the decades with new ideas and innovations in response to evolving patient needs.

By the early 80s, Old Town was only a few years removed from the height of living up to its “Skid Row” reputation. Thankfully, agencies were beginning to make headway toward helping people into better, more stable situations. For example, Burnside Consortium (as CCC was then known) sprouted up a few years earlier to save and increase the safety and maintenance of the single room occupancy (SRO) housing stock in the neighborhood and to fund local alcohol treatment providers. In 1983, Old Town Clinic (OTC), a small medical but sorely needed facility run by the Burnside Community Council, opened in neighborhood fixture Baloney Joe’s, a shelter serving homeless people located at the east end of the Burnside Bridge.

OTC moved to W Burnside and Third Ave in 1985; the next year Ecumenical Ministries took over management and continued to run the facility, providing primary care to the neighborhood’s homeless population for the next 15 years.

In 1983, Old Town Clinic (OTC), a small medical but sorely needed facility run by the Burnside Community Council, opened in neighborhood fixture Baloney Joe’s, a shelter serving homeless people located at the east end of the Burnside Bridge.

By 2001, CCC had recognized just how important health care is for helping people to realize their full potential; we took over management of the clinic. A decade of running CCC’s Portland Addictions Acupuncture Clinic (later renamed the Portland Alternative Health Center), which provided acupuncture, naturopathic and light primary care services to those living in and around Old Town, demonstrated the importance of comprehensive care to the success of long-term recovery. Assuming OTC’s operations solidified our commitment to providing holistic care. We quickly expanded the clinic’s services while continuing to operate in a low-cost setting. OTC began to offer both primary and naturopathic care, preventive exams, injury treatment, and connections to mental health and substance use disorder services. The clinic became a crucial starting point to help many patients end their homelessness and began a path to better health. 

Gary Cobb, CCC community outreach coordinator who has been with the agency since 2001, remembers how things fell in to place for the Old Town Clinic, as if it was all meant to be. “Sometimes you can’t sit and wait for opportunities to arise,” he said. “You need to jump and make things happen.”

At first, OTC operated under Multnomah County’s Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) status. But in 2003, CCC became its own FQHC site. This new designation allowed CCC to receive federal reimbursement for uninsured and underinsured poverty-level clients, opening up opportunities to bring much-needed medical services to our other programs like Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center, Letty Owings Center and the Community Engagement Program. (CCC now has 13 FQHC sites.)

“Sometimes you can’t sit and wait for opportunities to arise. You need to jump and make things happen.”

In 2003, OTC moved temporarily to NW 5th Ave. and Everett for about a year. But in 2004, CCC opened a shiny new building on W Burnside and Broadway where OTC and PAHC essentially consolidated into a single program to offer both primary care and complementary medicine services under the same roof. Old Town Clinic and our pharmacy continue to thrive there today. “We had leadership who had been community organizers, so their expertise in building relationships made the clinic into the national model it is today,” said Cobb.

OTC began a partnership with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in 2006. This partnership placed volunteer OHSU resident physicians in safety net clinics where they are trained by CCC staff to meet the medical needs of Portland’s homeless and low-income community. This “social medicine” partnership was a mutually beneficial one that allowed CCC to expand its medical services while training a future physician workforce to be familiar with and responsive to the needs of safety net clinics’ patient populations.

When Oregon began its statewide health system transformation to coordinated care organizations (CCOs) and expanded Medicaid coverage, CCC jumped on board to help achieve the triple aim of better care, better health and lower costs for all Oregonians. In 2012, CCC joined 10 other local health care and social service organizations to become a founding member of Health Share of Oregon CCO, which serves Medicaid members in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

In 2013, OTC was one of a handful of clinics nationwide singled out by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as an “exemplar practice” for our innovative work making health care more accessible to patients. The clinic hosts many innovative teams and programs, such as the Summit team that treats medically complex and fragile patients with integrated flexible care.

Being part of an organization that also provides affordable, supportive housing also gives OTC an unprecedented opportunity to serve its surrounding community. With some ingenuity, CCC’s Housed and Healthy program breaks down walls to lower barriers to quality care for hundreds of area residents.

Being part of an organization that also provides affordable, supportive housing also gives OTC an unprecedented opportunity to serve its surrounding community.

OTC and its pharmacy recently began using highly effective drugs to treat hepatitis C, a serious chronic liver disease that can lead to cirrhosis, cancer and even death. Oregon’s rate of hepatitis C is one of the highest in the country, and people with substance use disorders experience higher rates of hepatitis C. In 2018, OTC treated and cured 107 people who were infected with the hepatitis C virus, giving them a much healthier and brighter future. This treatment program continues to save lives.

Through OTC has hopped around the neighborhood and changed management over the past 36 years, one thing has always been constant: caring for the community that needs us the most. We respond to challenges with new ideas, and grow stronger with change. And we welcome and honor the people who entrust us with their health; they are the reason we’re here.



Rooted in Community: CCC Celebrates National Health Center Week 2019!

Aug 05, 2019

Happy National Health Center Week (NHCW) 2019! NHCW is one of my favorite times of the year, because it gives us an opportunity to pause and gratefully reflect on the compassion and dedication of the people and communities who personify the health center movement and its values.

Health centers were born in the early 1960s, at a time when American society was grappling with its values: how we live together, celebrate and honor each other, and care for each other. Today, we find ourselves once again facing these fundamental questions. Central City Concern (CCC) is committed to a culture of inclusion where the personal dignity and worth of each individual is valued and celebrated, and these values are lived across our services, including in our 13 Federally Qualified Health Center sites.

One of the most special aspects of CCC is the organization’s ability to provide services in response to the needs of specific communities, whether those communities are based on geography or by affiliation. As the 2019 NHCW theme is "Rooted in Communities," we wanted to celebrate this week by sharing the stories of programs and people across the organization who are doing just that. Visit the CCC blog throughout the week to learn more about Old Town Clinic, Puentes, Imani Center, Blackburn Center and more — programs that respond to, honor, elevate, and become part of the communities we have the privilege of serving.

Leslie Tallyn
Director of Performance Improvement



CCC Celebrates the Grand Opening of Blackburn Center!

Jul 16, 2019

On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 9, Central City Concern (CCC) welcomed nearly 300 community partners, funders and friends of the organization into our Blackburn Center in East Portland for a grand opening event.

The day marked a celebration of the building's completion, the start of services, the incredible breadth of partners and funders who made this possible, the impact Blackburn Center will make on the lives of thousands of people, and the tremendous amount of work that has gone into the project. Blackburn Center is the final and flagship project of the Housing is Health initiative.

As CCC's President and CEO Dr. Rachel Solotaroff reminded the guests, everything about Blackburn Center points back to the people we serve. "This beautiful space is a testament to the dignity and potential each person we serve holds, with an elegant and elevating environment to prove it," she said.

Blackburn Center is located at the corner of E Burnside and 122nd Ave.      CCC President & CEO Dr. Rachel Solotaroff opened the program.

Julie Smith, an apprentice laborer who worked on the building for Walsh Construction, shared her story, revealing that she had herself received CCC's services to find the path of recovery and stability. Working on the building that would serve thousands of people on similar paths as her own was so meaningful, she said.

Ed Blackburn, CCC's president & CEO emeritus after whom the building is named, reflected on what the services we offer here will mean to those we serve. Pain and hurt would enter through our doors, yes, but healing and hope would be shared back out into the world.

Other speakers included Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick, and representatives from funders Portland Housing Bureau, Corporation for Supportive Housing, U.S. Bank, Oregon Housing and Community Services, Oregon Health Authority and the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association.

Representatives from each of the six Housing is Health initiative partners, who came together to provide a trailblazing $21.5 million gift to fund Blackburn Center and two other affordable housing projects, spoke as well: Adventist Health Medical Group, CareOregon, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Legacy Health, Oregon Health & Science University and Providence Health & Services - Oregon.

Julie Smith spoke about CCC's recovery and housing services crucial to helping her find stability. She was the event's honorary ribbon cutter.      Ed Blackburn, CCC president & CEO emeritus, was instrumental in bringing the six Housing is Health partners together under a common cause.

The first two floors of Blackburn Center are a community health center that will eventually serve 3,000 people each year with comprehensive and integrated primary care services, mental health and addiction treatment care, employment assistance, housing resources and a pharmacy.

The third floor is the new home of CCC’s Recuperative Care Program (RCP). Since 2005, RCP has offered respite care to 30 people at a time, offering medical care, case management and housing to people discharged from local hospitals with nowhere else to go and heal. With their move to Blackburn Center, RCP can now care for up to 51 people. Mental Health RCP will start in the next month, while 10 beds for people in palliative care will be added in the future.

Blackburn Center also includes 80 units of alcohol- and drug-free transitional housing on the fourth and fifth floors, and 34 permanent homes on the sixth floor. Integrated resident and health support services will help residents stay housed and in recovery.

Ankrom Moisan Architects, Inc. did an award-winning job on the design of the building; Walsh Construction Co. brought it into touchable, walkable, livable reality.

Thanks to all who joined in our journey to open Blackburn Center. And now we get to the real work of helping people find home, healing and hope.

Learn more about Blackburn Center’s services here. View the complete set of photos from the event here.

     

     



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: October 2018 Edition

Oct 30, 2018

For this month’s spotlight, we’re celebrating National Physical Therapy month and spotlighting a volunteer who has lent her holistic approach to the practice to patients at the Old Town Clinic. Senior Director of Primary Care at the Old Town Clinic, Barbara Martin, had this to say about Anita’s work:

"Anita August has been an ongoing volunteer with Old Town Clinic, bringing in expertise on both general physical therapy as well as specific types of therapy to help with pain, such as persistent back pain. She has been flexible with figuring out what might work best for our patients, including group options or one-on-one appointments. She has also worked around our space and time constraints to help us make the most of her generous gift of time. She is positive, helpful, and supportive of our patients."

Read on to hear about how Anita got involved with CCC, how her practice of physical therapy has evolved over time, and what she admires about the work that goes on at the Old Town Clinic!

• • •

Peter: How long have you been volunteering with Central City Concern?

Anita: I would say over five years, maybe close to six years.

P: And how did you find out about the agency or the opportunity?

A: Well, I lived in the neighborhood and I was very interested in the Old Town Clinic (OTC). I came to the open house for the new building, where I met Geoff, who was the Occupational Therapist here. We got to talking and our ideas were so similar I said “I would love to be a part of this.” And he said, “We can do that!” So that’s how I got involved.

"It takes courage sometimes just to get up in the morning and I’ve found many of the people at Old Town Clinic are courageous."

P: What is your role here now?

A: My role is physical therapy, but not the tradition physical therapy that I have been doing for over 50 years. Some years back, I began to be dissatisfied with how I was treating people. Mind and body are really one entity and that was what I was not accessing in this traditional type of PT. You “fix” a shoulder or a knee, but you haven’t changed the things that were behind that injury.

I went back and took a training course about four years ago in Alexander Technique. This is a system of working with people that is very congruent with Physical therapy. It looks at the way you can change habitual patterns of behavior. That could be how you sit, how you stand. Do you move so abruptly you “glitch” your joints every time you move? Does your posture have the habitual fear or startle tension patterns? Do you fall because you move impulsively and lose your balance? It looks at the subtle, hidden patterns of reaction. How do your react when someone accidently bumps into you? Are there people or circumstances you unthinkingly react to that are not helpful to you?

So that’s Alexander Technique, I think it is the best thing since sliced bread and I tend to go on and on about it. It works really well with Physical Therapy. There is just no gap between the two approaches for me. Alexander Technique may seem more indirect. I see you for a sore shoulder and I work on how you sit and stand to start. But in many ways I think it is actually more direct for getting better.

P: It sounds like it is kind of preventative in a way rather than restorative?

A: Both! It is preventive in a big way. For example, if somebody wants to take up yoga, often people go to a class and after the first or second time they go, they can’t move; they are really hurt. They haven’t known enough to be mindful of how they work to be able to manage themselves in the class.

P: And that’s an interesting thing because we often recommend yoga as a wellness routine despite the fact that there can be that barrier for some folks.

A: Not all Yoga is created equal! Out in the community there are different competencies of instructors. Here at Old Town, I have watched the classes and they are safe and wonderful. But in some community general classes, your instructor gives you instruction and you completely go into that without thinking. You don’t think, “Okay, stop, I’ve had back problems so let me be sure that my head and neck and torso are in a good place. Let me see if I can move that way with healing ease of movement.” Do I go as far as I can, especially if the person next to you is a pretzel, or do I keep good use of myself rather then going headlong into the movement?

But it is not only that; it’s many things. It’s how you react to somebody at work giving you a new task. Do you get so tense that all you can think about is “I have to do this right”, instead of stopping [and thinking], “Okay, let me see what this part is and step one, and step two, and step three.” This keeps you safe and also allows you to do a better job!

"I hear how clients are treated [at the Old Town Clinic], what happens here, and I think it’s exemplary. I think it’s something that should be a model. And I’m really delighted to be a part of that."

P: And is that physical carrying of tension something you see a lot with the population that we serve here?

A: Very much. But it’s not just here! People I see here have been through a lot. They’ve been up and down and they’ve dealt with some tough, tough things in their life. So in many ways, Old Town Clinic clients are more able to understand what I am talking about.

P: Was the population that you served before OTC the same as the one you serve now?

A: I’ve really been around. One of the PT jobs I had was working for a company that did ergonomics, so I was on the floor of Nabisco bakery and Costco. I loved this job! I learned about Dough Jams and loading cocoa into giant vats. I went home smelling like Ritz crackers!

I had interesting jobs in Hospice and ran a chronic pain clinic for a while in Pennsylvania. I also was administer of MacDonald residence, down the street, for a short time after it opened.

P: Do you see any differences between the folks you’ve served in the past and your clients at OTC?

A: It’s all the same to me. I like working one-on one, sometimes I like classes but my favorite is one-on –one. In so many ways everyone is the same and everyone is different.

P: Any stand-out moments during your time here?

A: Many of our people here, as I’ve said, have been through a lot. I often feel a strong connection, great affection, and enormous respect for those I meet here. Dealing with problems and aging is not, as it is said, for the faint of heart! It takes courage sometimes just to get up in the morning and I’ve found many of the people at OTC are courageous.

P: When folks ask, what do you tell them about your experience here?

A: I usually start out and say that I feel really lucky to be a part of this organization. I was lucky to meet up with Geoff, and lucky to have a role here.

P: Anything else you were hoping to be asked about your work or about physical therapy in general?

A: As I said, it’s really a good thing. After all this time, I am not diminished in my enthusiasm at all about where PT is going now. It is becoming more holistic, and with the Alexander Technique that I am bring into this, I focus on those kinds of principles. I also want to say something about the values of OTC. I observe how clients are treated, what happens here, and I think it is exemplary. It is something that should be a model. I am really delighted to be a part of that.

P: What qualities do you see that you would hold up as a model?

A: Enormous respect and empathy. And then kindness, just being kind. Being warm and kind and meeting people where they are. Less judgement, more empathy. I believe that in a more conventional setting, people would not be doing as well as they do here. The programs that are being offered, along with the idea of reducing opioid use and supporting a healthier lifestyle, give people a sense that they are cared for. It is very positive.



NHCW Health Care Hero: Lydia Bartholow

Aug 17, 2018

Lydia Bartholow still isn’t absolutely certain how she came to become Central City Concern’s (CCC) associate medical director for outpatient substance use disorder services.

“I sort of feel like I’m still a crusty punk kid who magically got into this role,” she says.

But it’s exactly Lydia’s past—her upbringing, an adventurous young adulthood, the paths she chose—that informs her present and makes her an integral, guiding voice for how CCC serves those in need of addiction treatment. In her role, Lydia works primarily with the CCC Recovery Center and Eastside Concern programs, overseeing the outpatient services that engage individuals working to start or maintain their recovery journey. And while being an associate medical director carries a wide range of responsibilities, Lydia is singularly driven.

“My passion really is and shows up in working to make sure that our patients are the drivers of their health—that the patient experience is as good as possible.”

Lydia’s laser focus on CCC’s patients, many of whom are marginalized, living at or near poverty, and often cast aside or uncared for by mainstream health care systems, can be traced back to how she was raised. Growing up in a Unitarian Universalist household set the table for Lydia’s sense of who she wanted to work with—those “who are hardest to love”—as well as her obligation to them: “to love them as much as possible.”

“I sort of feel like I’m still a crusty punk kid who magically got into this role."

In her early 20s, Lydia lived as a self-described “gutter punk kid.” While living amongst the trees or hopping trains, she became familiar with many issues like substance use disorder that bring clients in to receive CCC services. At the same time, she was also exposed to ways of seeing how people relate to each other that greatly influence how she approaches her work.

“A core ethos in the punk world is being non-hierarchical. Believing that one person doesn’t have more power or worth than another,” Lydia shares. “I try to bring that into every encounter with a patient.”

Lydia’s goal is to preserve what she calls “patient autonomy.” Her training may give her a different kind of knowledge than her patients, but she aims to put her patients in position to drive their health care based on what they know best: their own experiences.

“I want to make sure that our system is one that allows our patients to feel safe enough to name what they need from us. I don’t mandate behavior change and I don’t judge them,” she says. “We don’t ask them to fit into our health care world.”

In recent years, Lydia’s effort to create a sense of safety for patients has led her to become one of CCC’s most outspoken proponents of trauma-informed care, a framework that acknowledges how trauma affects people. For those living with addiction, trauma can come from numerous places—even where they turn to for help. Trauma-informed care reorients care systems and practices to honor and center patients’ experiences.

“We can’t just chase positive patient outcomes,” she says. “We really want people to feel seen, heard and supported on the way to reaching those outcomes.”

Her training may give her a different kind of knowledge than her patients, but she aims to put her patients in position to drive their health care based on what they know best: their own experiences.

It’s difficult to imagine CCC having made so many strides toward integrating trauma-informed care without Lydia’s endless enthusiasm for and advocacy on behalf of the patient experience, but it took a number of twists in her own journey to get to where she is today.

She originally trained as a medical herbalist before choosing to follow her heart for working with marginalized populations. She took her time to decide between medical school and nursing school before choosing to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner. Realizing that those who are part of vulnerable populations often struggled with addictions and trauma, she further focused her goal to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). It was as a PMHNP that Lydia joined CCC, and she’s been improving how the organization provides care since.

In her work, Lydia wants little more than for her patients to find healing from addiction. What sets Lydia—and CCC—apart is focusing just as much on how they get there.

“Our job is to walk hand-in-hand with our patients and to make sure they’re at the center of everything we do,” she says. “They’re in such a vulnerable time and I want them know they can count on us.”



NHCW Health Care Hero: Steve Hardenbergh

Aug 17, 2018

Spend any time with Steve Hardenbergh and one thing becomes overwhelmingly clear: he’s an optimist who believes in the innate goodness of people, through and through. His hearty laugh and easy smile proclaim it. The life in his eyes shows it. And most importantly, his actions prove it.

For more than 25 years, Steve has worked with people at or close to rock bottom because of their substance use disorder who had made their way to Central City Concern’s (CCC) treatment services. He’s seen people suffer, relapse or pass away. But before that, he saw rock bottom in the mirror.

“In the late 80s, I was using a lot of drugs and drinking too much while I was in acupuncture school. I was the one who reeked of alcohol during morning class,” Steve says. “So I ended up going into treatment back when CCC ran the Portland Addictions Acupuncture Clinic (PAAC).”

For more than 25 years, Steve has worked with people at or close to rock bottom…. He’s seen people suffer, relapse or pass away. But before that, he saw rock bottom in the mirror.

Steve committed himself to a life of recovery, and slowly but surely, his fortunes turned. He finished his acupuncture studies and came back to be an acupuncturist at PAAC (which would eventually become Portland Alternative Health Center, then the CCC Recovery Center). Since he also had a degree in social work, he was asked to step into a counseling role, too.

“People were always willing to test the waters of opening up to me,” Steve says. “I can only be honest and genuine with them, and they can know what to expect out of me. I think that helps.”

Today, two decades later, Steve is a mainstay at the Old Town Clinic: he’s (still) an acupuncturist, a counselor for patients utilizing medication supported recovery as well as those managing chronic pain while simultaneously in addiction treatment. He draws from his glass-half-full approach to remind even the most hardened clients that change is possible. Merely showing up to receive support, he’s quick to remind, means they’re listening to their inner selves.

“I give them encouragement that they’re good people. I strongly believe that listening to our true self is a real good way to help change behaviors. I want to help clients feel and realize that they are more than labels, that they’re more than an addict, more than an alcoholic. Inside, they are good.”

Steve’s message has won him scores of fans over the years. But even when clients linger after a group session to chat with him or come search him out when they’re at the clinic to thank him for his support, he points the conversation back to the client.

“He always reminds the patient that no matter how much he’s helped their recovery, ultimately, they're the one doing the work,” shares a colleague. “This happens a lot!”

While it may be tempting to reduce Steve’s optimism into a tidy belief about individual value and willpower, Steve says that tapping into one’s innate goodness and true self is only half the story. Finding people who can offer support, empathy and wisdom is crucial to making positive changes.

“Finding a community that understands you and what you’re trying to do can give you the confidence to change those behaviors,” he says. “It’s hard to see someone not experiencing connection. It’s hard enough to give people confidence that they don’t have to rely on drugs. It’s just as hard to give them the confidence to know they’re worthy of love and connection.”

“I want to help clients feel and realize that they are more than labels, that they’re more than an addict, more than an alcoholic. Inside, they are good.”

Counting on community is a lesson that Steve leans on in his own work, too. He knows he’s not perfect—“when I make mistakes, I have to own them and be more mindful and be better moving forward”—but he feels grounded by others he finds himself around daily.

“Whenever I feel like helping a person change is all on me, I remind myself that there are so many other awesome people at the clinic involved in their care,” he says. “And that’s a good thing, not just for me, but for our clients!”

In the rare times when Steve feels discouraged, something or someone eventually comes along to remind him that his eternal, vibrant optimism for those he works with is warranted.

“Once in a while, someone will come up to me, maybe at the grocery store or something, and ask if I remember them. And they’re there with their kid and they tell me they’ve been in recovery and sober for eight years,” Steve says, his eyes lighting up recollecting the last time it happened. “Things like that… they’re really good. Real good.”



NHCW Health Care Hero: Whitney Berry

Aug 16, 2018

Sometimes it takes a few steps off the path to find one’s way forward. It’s a lesson that Whitney Berry is grateful to have learned, and one that helps her empathize with the patients she sees each day when she comes into work.

Whitney is the clinic coordinator for Central City Concern’s (CCC) Old Town Clinic (OTC), a position that, until just a few years ago, she didn’t know existed. Yet, in retrospect, many of her experiences, instincts and preferences point to exactly the place she finds herself in now.

Growing up, what Whitney did know was that she wanted to work with people. The allure of intersecting with a limitless universe of stories and personalities and journeys was too much for her to imagine anything else.

The allure of intersecting with a limitless universe of stories and personalities and journeys was too much for her to imagine anything else.

“I think people are just so fascinating. We all have something to bring to the table, and I love learning about what the something is,” she says.

Whitney initially pursued a future in nursing, but realized that it wasn’t the right avenue for her to work with people. Instead, she earned a degree in family and human services, which introduced her to ways of working with her community that deeply resonated with her values of helping those in need. Her brief time in a nursing program was the detour she needed to unearth a bit more of the path she was making for herself.

Her route to CCC was similarly winding. She worked with youth with behavioral hardships, then tried out office work with a retail business. During the latter, she unexpectedly found a knack for administrative work, but found herself missing interaction with others more than ever before.

CCC had always been in Whitney’s periphery. Her father has served on the board for many years, and a family member found stability through CCC’s addiction treatment services. Without any clinical credentials, Whitney didn’t consider the possibility of working with the population CCC serves. But when she found out about the clinic coordinator opportunity, she knew that it was a prime opportunity.

“It was a combination of working in health care, administrative duties, and meeting all sorts of people,” Whitney says. “I also felt the need to give back to the place that changed the life of my family member who went through CCC’s services.”

Since arriving as the clinic coordinator, Whitney has become a crucial staff member whose work behind the scenes as a do-everything, know-everything resource “greases the wheels of Old Town Clinic,” as one colleague describes.

When new employees start at Old Town Clinic, Whitney becomes their guide, helping them find their place in the bustling operation that sees more than 20,000 visits each year. When the clinic needs to coordinate access with local hospitals, Whitney is likely on the phone making that happen. When the clinic’s care teams identify a new way to help patients, they’ll often call on Whitney to help execute their idea.

“Everyone in the clinic has their own work, so I fill in gaps so they don’t necessarily have to worry about connecting the dots,” Whitney says. “No matter which clinic staff I’m helping, I’m helping someone who cares for our patients. And by helping them, I’m part of lowering the barrier to receiving care at OTC.”

“No matter which clinic staff I’m helping, I’m helping someone who cares for our patients. And by helping them, I’m part of lowering the barrier to receiving care at OTC.”

Several times a month, Whitney also meets one-on-one with prospective patients as part of a new Old Town Clinic initiative to provide same-day intake appointments, allowing patients to meet with a provider much sooner. Before the initiative, a patient waited an average of 14 days for an intake appointment. With Whitney’s willingness to step in and draw from her passion for hearing people’s stories, the average wait is now effectively zero days.

“In the past, people came in to OTC and realized they had to schedule two weeks out. They went through a rollercoaster of emotions,” she says. “That they can get in with an intake and potentially be seen even that day is amazing.”

Though the majority of her days is spent making sure the needs of clinic staff are met, Whitney absolutely shines in this role. The opportunities to meet directly with patients affirm for Whitney that her path, indirect as it’s been, has led her to where she wants—and needs—to be.

“Being the clinic coordinator has pushed me to want to work with our population even more. Seeing what I’ve seen and hearing what I’ve heard, I can tell people that this is not the end.”



NHCW Health Care Hero: Brian Barnes

Aug 16, 2018

Like most superheroes, Brian Barnes has an origin story. It may not be as dramatic as the ones you’ve read in comics, but the lines that connect his past experiences to who he is, what he does, and his motivations today are just as bold and clear.

As Central City Concern’s (CCC) associate director for behavioral health in primary care, Brian oversees parts of Old Town Clinic’s (OTC) care continuum that support individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse. Brian ensures our patients not only receive the care they need, but that they receive the very best we can offer. His colleagues attest to his singular drive to provide a level of care to our patients—many of whom live on the margins—where they may have received less than excellent care, but certainly deserve the best.

“Brian goes above and beyond consistently and tirelessly to make sure patients get the right kind of care at the right time, regardless of barriers,” said a colleague. “He offers innovative methods when doors to access appear closed. He develops seamless pathways for patients to reduce barriers.”

Brian began to carve out a reputation for his tenacity and relentlessness in finding solutions for his patients’ care.

The extra effort is absolutely worth it to Brian. He’s seen up close how mental health and addiction care can let someone down. He was once the one receiving it.

“I was a client of substance use disorder treatment and mental health services for many years and at many levels of care,” Brian shares. “I experienced a number of professionals who were trying to help me but either weren’t trained or didn’t care enough to get to the root causes of my problems, even when I was in a very vulnerable place.”

Brian couldn’t help but think that if he found himself in this line of work, he would do things differently. Better, even. “It felt obvious to me what I needed to do: work in a position where I could continually try to increase the quality of substance use disorder treatment and mental health services.”

He began pursuing this idea that continued to stick with him. First came the alcohol and drug treatment counseling certification and job as a counselor in a local opioid treatment program. Then the Master of Social Work degree in order to provide mental health services. Then came an internship with CCC, where he saw how effective integrated care could be while working as a counselor in OTRC.

As he moved through his internship, his counseling position, and then into a role as a CCC clinical supervisor, Brian began to carve out a reputation for his tenacity and relentlessness in finding solutions for his patients’ care. When he was receiving care, he felt his service providers too often stopped when they saw even a shadow of a barrier.

“We don’t just settle with ‘no.’ We see gaps and we bridge them.”

While his experience with the treatment system motivates him, his bridge-building instincts were honed in a different part of his past: his tenure as a bank vice-president who oversaw collections and foreclosures. In an industry widely reviled for its mercilessness, Brian reoriented his department to help, not harm, homeowners. They didn’t want to take their homes, he says. Rather, his staff acted as counselors, assessing how they could find a mutually beneficial resolution with their customers.

"Are our patients willing to do the work of their treatment plan? Do they have the ability? If the answer is ‘no’ to either, then the question becomes, ‘What do we need to do to fill that gap?’"

“If we could learn from them whether they had or didn’t have—willingness to pay or ability to pay—then we’d be able to address the deficit,” Brian says. “I see that applied to what we’re doing here. Are our patients willing to do the work of their treatment plan? Do they have the ability? If the answer is ‘no’ to either, then the question becomes, ‘What do we need to do to fill that gap?’”

Brian has gone to extraordinary lengths to fill that gap for patients who would otherwise be lost in the system. He does this by coordinating care across multiple organizations, weaving together innovative low-barrier treatment plans tailored to a patient’s very complex and very unique situation, arranging last-minute transportation, and more. It’s not easy, but Brian believes it’s absolutely worthwhile.

When Brian relied on the system, it came up short in many ways. However, there were a couple of professionals who demonstrated unconditional care, concern, and supportive engagement. They are his role models. Now that he’s part of the system, he’s committed to going the extra mile for the sake of his patients.

“This is the most stretched I’ve ever felt in any career. But I expected this work to be difficult. That’s why I’m doing it,” Brian says. “For many people, there’s nowhere else to go beyond Old Town Clinic. That’s what we’re here for. And it works.”



NHCW Health Care Hero: Sally Swain

Aug 15, 2018

On many nights, Sally Swain would go home from her shift at a local social service agency and think about the people she’d met that day.

She remembered the contours of their faces. She mentally catalogued the things they carried with them. She wondered what behavioral health resources were out there to help them. Sometimes, Sally simply sat in awe at how they maneuvered through the reality of being homeless with as much grace as they did. Their stories, she says, captivated her.

“These people were absolutely leaving their mark on me.”

Among the people she got to know, she noticed that those having the hardest time remaining engaged with services, or even keeping their spot at a shelter, were almost always folks living with untreated serious mental illness. Her thoughts drifted toward them most often. Soon, her thoughts translated into action.

Sometimes, Sally simply sat in awe at how they maneuvered through the reality of being homeless with as much grace as they did.

“I started to look into what kinds of jobs help this population and I found that a master’s of social work was the kind of background that would put me in position to do that,” she says.

As the clinical supervisor for one of two Community Outreach Recovery Engagement (CORE) teams at the Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC), Sally puts her concern, passion, and education to work. The CORE team serves adults with major mental illness to help them remain integrated in the community as much as possible. They work with the patients to develop the tools to be active participants in their own lives. Without CORE, these patients would likely be cycling in and out of hospitals, shelters or institutions—much like those whose circumstances nudged Sally into this line of work in the first place.

Sally is often the first person a new CORE client will meet with. Her familiarity with CORE’s patient population—the barriers they face, the services they’ve tried, the goals they have—as well as her gentle Southern charm help her build bridges. Clients learn, many quickly, that she will listen to them, advocate for them, and support them. Some clients who met Sally years ago while she was working at other agencies remember and ask for her by name.

“A lot of times, we’re doing simple tasks that I think give people a chance for greater meaning and connection in their lives,” Sally says. “It can be a lot of fun taking someone to get a haircut or accompanying them to make a phone call.”

Progress—as Sally, her team, and their clients perceive it—isn’t elusive, per se, but it is reimagined beyond typical notions of success. While outcomes are important, the CORE team’s primary aim is to simply be present in the lives of their clients and to support them in any and every way they can.

“In our work, success might be that someone who’s never done mental health treatment before forms one trusting relationship. Maybe it’s someone who’s able to come in and simply ask for what they need,” Sally explains. “At the end of the day, I think that success can be as simple as fostering a relationship between us and the people we’re serving.”

While walking alongside clients opens opportunities to witness and participate in triumphs, it also exposes Sally and her team to disappointments and heartbreak.

“We’re with people in times of great sadness and in times of rejoicing. I’ve been taught so much by our clients about what it really means to weather something.”

“We’re with people in times of great sadness and in times of rejoicing,” Sally says. “I’ve been taught so much by our clients about what it really means to weather something.”

Even after five years at Central City Concern, and more than a decade working with vulnerable populations, she continues to learn that she shares the weight of her work with those around her as they experience the peaks and valleys of their clients’ lives. Having a team around her reminds her how vital it is for clients to know that the CORE team is ready, able, and present to help.

“Every day I find where my limits end and another person’s capabilities start. We find a way to be in this together. I know I’m not alone in this.”