Thursday, June 07, 2012 and Friday, June 08, 2012
This past week has been super busy, consisting of hiking mountains, shadowing case managers, and working with clients.
Last week, Maggie had invited me to hike Lazy Mountain with some family friends this Saturday; so bright and early, I met up with Maggie and the others and we set off. We took the longer but less steep trail so we encountered more switchbacks and viewpoints along the way, and the only word I can think of to describe Alaska is “majestic”. Bill and I have had some interesting conversations about Alaska being the “Last Frontier” and a place that people go to have a fresh start. Looking around after climbing 3000 feet, I understand why. It’s so beautiful and breathtaking all at once; pictures just don’t do it justice. Anyways, on the way up, we met a few people around my age who are spending the next two months working on an organic farm in the area. After chatting for a bit, I exchanged numbers with the girl so we can meet up and hike together-just meeting people everywhere! The trails are all pretty well known around the Palmer area and it hasn’t seen too many bears or moose but almost everyone carries a bear bell or bear spray (like pepper spray but with a longer range and obviously more powerful) just in case. One of the bosses I met last week gave me an official bear bell to carry on any solo hikes I do, so I’m joining the ranks of Alaskans! I saw a lot of people hiking by themselves on the better known trails and when the weather is nice, everyone is outside. The prolonged sunlight allows for even more outdoor activity so Maggie and I are hiking the same trail again soon but we’re going to take the steeper and more direct route. I’ll also be doing some hiking in the Anchorage area with my friends who live there so I’ll get some shots of that too.
Sitting at the top of Lazy Mountain!
The view of the Mat-Su valley.
Moving past my recreational time:
Monday morning I debriefed with Bill from last week; talking through what I saw and observed, what connections I made, and any questions or clarifications I still had. We chatted about the dynamic between the different agencies and how the work of each one contributes to the others. The population of each agency tends to overlap so the people served are utilizing all the various services offered. The one thing that Bill really emphasized is that the relationship between the agencies is vital because one agency cannot provide all the services needed. If they attempt to, their services are usually less than adequate because their resources are stretched too thin. Under the Valley Christian Conference, each agency handles their specialty and then provides for the other organizations. This allows everyone to do their job effectively. I have learned that a lot of talking happens-communication between agencies, within agencies, and with the clients. There has to be a commitment to seeking the best solution for the client and this involves working together to bring the resources together. This means that the protocols and mission statements of each organization is adhered to and respected, but the needs of the client take precedent. After dissecting and processing the little I had seen, Bill handed me off to Polly, the program coordinator, so I could shadow her and see what the case managers all do.
I spent a lot of the week shadowing Tiffany, one of the case managers. We mostly took the time to introduce me to her clients and run them to various appointments. These range from doctor appointments to the grocery store to counseling sessions, etc. The role of the case manager is to provide the resources for the client to thrive. This means that the client has the ability to maintain their independence and to choose what resources they ask for and take advantage of, therefore empowering them to make their own decisions. The case manager helps to provide feedback, offer alternatives, and talk through the options with the client and then provide resources for the client when they ask. I had the opportunity to work one on one with one of Tiffany’s clients, Perlita. I spent about 45 minutes running errands with her and just chatting. It is awesome to hear her stories and listen to her life events-probably a very eye opening and humbling experience as well. Society places this stigma on mental health clients; they’re usually shoved to the margins of society, labeled, and “treated” for their disease. This approach disregards the fact that they are people, with emotions, craving acceptance, and looking to thrive in society, a society that has already labeled them. They get caught in this cycle that they can’t get out of-they act out because they have a disease, can’t get housing or a job, and then they can’t become stabilized because their basic needs aren’t met so they act out. Being able to interact and talk with the various people, I remember how uncomfortable I get, the paranoid assumptions I make, and the marginalization I have placed on people of mental health. I’m humbled into realizing that I am not helping them when I act like that and that these people are more intelligent than I could ever hope to be along with some amazing life stories and all they’re looking for is acceptance and understanding. Watching the case managers’ interaction with the clients allowed me to see my own assumptions and those of others and work towards a different approach.
A lot of the Daybreak clients as well as other mentally ill people tend to have other issues such as substance abuse so they can get in trouble with the law. To avoid creating a cycle where these same clients get caught up in the law systems-offending, having a record so they can’t get housing or a job, and then reoffending- they have created a diversionary court called the Coordinated Resources Project (CRP) in 2004. This court is a chance for clients who committed low-risk misdemeanor offenses to go through a treatment program instead of doing time in prison. The clients work with their own case manager and a defense attorney to create and implement their treatment plan. They have to check in every week to make sure they are sticking to their requirements and make any revisions to their treatment. The cool thing about this court is that since 2004, there have been 35 people that have gone into the program, with 20 people graduating from it and 15 who did not finish and out of those who graduated, only one reoffended. This is compared to 14 out of the 35 people in the comparison group. If you look at the cost of the crimes of the two groups and the likely hood of their reoffending, the CRP saved the courts over $200,000. Not only is this program benefiting the state by saving them money, it also obviously saves the clients the pain of having to get constantly caught up in the cycle. Instead, they are able to obtain treatment and their basic needs are met which helps to provide the resources they need to become high functioning citizens. The judge is harsh but fair, allowing them the room to grow and learn, therefore empowering them to be responsible for their decisions. CRP not only is good for the judicial system, saving them money and resources, but it is a tool for the clients to become more and more independent.
After spending a week looking at the inner workings of Daybreak, I have learned a little about the positive approaches to dealing with mental illness. The whole philosophy of Daybreak is empowerment, so the individual is able to maintain a sense of independence. It reminds me of the humanity of the person. The case managers are focused on providing for the basic needs of the person, both physical and emotional. These include housing and food, as well as acceptance and understanding, and most importantly an ear to listen. Mental illnesses are going to be stabilized more easily if the person is cared for mentally, physically, and emotionally. It gives them independence and enables them to meld into society better. It has been such an eye-opening experience to realize not only the preconceived notions I carry myself but also become aware of the assumptions that others carry about those with mental illness. It creates cycles that people get caught up in and this does not create an environment that is conducive to stabilization. Daybreak destroys this cycle by working one on one and helping to empower the person.