It seemed like a good arrangement. Genesee County's mental health director, Ellery Reeves, landed the position of mental health commissioner in Erie County, but was willing to continue as mental health director for Genesee County.
Once the state found out about the arrangement, it turned out things weren't quite so simple. The county still needs the state's blessing for an agreement that really isn't covered by current state law.
The new contract with Reeves made him a "less than full-time" contract worker -- no benefits, on-call, he would invoice the county for his services like any contract worker.
Reeves told the county legislature in a special meeting Wednesday that such consolidated services are the wave of the future. He expects some day there will be only one mental health director for the entire eight-county Western New York Region, but current law hasn't quite caught up with the concept.
Though this isn't a "shared services" arrangement with Erie County, Erie County has given Reeves the OK to also serve as Genesee County's mental health director. There are other counties in the state that share mental health directors.
State law makes provisions for a full-time mental health director in a county, or part-time (which a county must have), but not "less than full time" nor for a contracted consultant.
Legislators discussed Wednesday the difficulty of finding director candidates who will accept the pay level of a small county and still meet state requirements, which is part of the reason the arrangement with Reeves seemed to be a good fit for the county's needs.
There are no other employees in the county who have the state-sanctioned qualifications to be director, and the County Services Board (which oversees the mental health department) and the legislature want to keep Reeves in the job.
To do that, the county will need to write a letter to the state's Inter Office Coordinating Council, which much approve all mental health directors, and seek a waiver so that Reeves can be a "less than full time" contracted mental health director.
The budget or the contracted position is $48,000 to $50,000. Reeves salary in 2011 was $74,652.
The Genesee County Legislature is accepting applications for the position of Genesee County Community Services/Mental Health Board Member. Of special interest is an open position for a Clergy Member.
Applications for board members are available on the Genesee County Web site by visiting www.co.genesee.ny.us under the Legislature Department. You may also contact your legislator or the Genesee County Legislature Office for additional details.
The Web site contains an Advisory Board Booklet listing all our board opportunities. You are encouraged to visit the Web site and let us know of your interests, 344-2550, ext. 2202.
One elderly person commits suicide every 90 seconds, according to a statistic provided by the Genesee County Mental Health Association.
That's why they are helping the Genesee County Suicide Prevention Coalition to host an upcoming pair of workshops featuring Eric Weaver (pictured). He's the executive director of "Overcoming the Darkness," a Victor-based organization dedicated to providing education about and help for people with mental illnesses.
"Suicide Prevention in the Elderly" is the title of the workshops, which will take place Tuesday at ARC's Community Center, at 38 Woodrow Road in Batavia. There will be a workshop for providers from 12:30 until 4:30 p.m. and another one for friends and family members from 6 until 8 p.m.
Both are free and open to the public.
Caregivers, family and community members who attend either workshop will be equipped to help elderly individuals in danger of suicide by learning how to:
Understand risk factors;
Recognize warning signs;
Learn how to have a discussion with the person if they suspect suicidal thoughts; and
Learn about local resources available to help with prevention, managing risk factors and coping in the wake of a suicide.
According to Sue Gagne, of Genesee County Mental Health, people age 65 and older have a higher suicide rate than any other age group.
She believes the main contributing factors to be "financial concerns, concerns about managing the aging process, health concerns and loss of independence."
Millie Tomidy, also of Genesee County Mental Health, described the Genesee County Suicide Prevention Coalition as "a group of people from various professional backgrounds as well as individual community members who are alarmed by the prevalence of suicide and want to do something about it."
"The ripple effect from one death can devastate the entire community," Tomidy said. "The goal of the coalition is to educate in order to prevent future suicides, but also to have a unified response plan in place if (a suicide) should occur."
Weaver, a survivor of a mental illness himself, is widely recognized for his educational talks and training seminars for professionals, family members, churches, workplaces, community groups, schools, hospitals and other audiences.
The mission of his business, "Overcoming the Darkness," is to "reduce stigma, increase understanding surrounding the many challenges of mental health related issues, create a culture that openly discusses the topic of mental illness, suicide and suicide related behavior, and above all proclaim that there is hope and that a level of recovery is available to everyone, so that individuals and families will no longer need to suffer in silence" (from the Web site).
For more information or to reserve a space, call 344-2611.
A collaborative event with the Genesee County Mental Health Association and Maryanne Arena, director of fine and performing arts at GCC. A one-act play, "'night, Mother" by Marsha Norman, will be performed on Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12 at 7 p.m. and a Sunday matinee, May 13, at 2 p,m.
Starring Maryanne and Jaime Arena, it features a daughter, Jessie, and her mother, Thelma, in a story about suicide.
For ticket prices and selling locations, visit GCMHA at www.gcmha.org. All proceeds will benefit GCMHA. Please note that this play is appropriate for ages 16+.
For general information, contact the Genesee Center for the Arts Box Office at 585/345-6814, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Markham has been at the helm of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism & Substance Abuse (GCASA) for more than a decade. Today, he retires from his job as its executive director.
Here the 65-year-old Markham introduces himself:
Since he started at GCASA in 2000, the organization has developed some notable new programs and won numerous national awards for both treatment and prevention programs.
The prevention efforts alone have received a government grant to head up a Drug-Free Communities Coalition (DFC) for Genesee County. In addition, they've received grants to mentor two other coalitions -- one in Orleans County and one in Lancaster/Depew.
They have earned such honors as: the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America's (CADCA) Got Outcomes! Award in the category of "Coalition as a Whole" in 2006; the National Exemplary Award from the National Association of State Alcohol/Drug Abuse Directors ('07) ; and selection as Coalition of the Year by CADCA ('07).
Below, Markham answers some questions about himself and his career.
Did you grow up wanting to pursue a career in the social work/mental health field?
No. My college degree was in philosophy, with a minor in sociology. My first job was as a psychiatric social worker trainee at Kings Park in Rochester. At that time, the Department of Mental Hygiene (which no longer exists) was awarding grants for people to pursue careers in social work. So I went back to school on a grant from them and got a master's degree in social work from SUNY Albany. As I got into the field, I gradually held positions with greater responsibility.
I understand you have a private practice in Brockport. What type of counseling do you do?
As a licensed clinical social worker, I kind of do it all. Most of my clients deal with stress-related problems like anxiety and depression. They might have problems with their families, at work...sometimes they're dealing with grief, too. I also do couples and family counseling.
How did you get into the administrative aspect of the social work field?
Having been a clinician, I felt I had ideas about how services could be organized more effectively and efficiently. It has kind of been a dual career of mine, because I’ve continued to have my own practice. I’ve found the two (clinical and administrative work) to be interrelated in an intimate way. The way I see it, the manager is like an architect, and the clinician is the general contractor he hires to carry out the plan. There are key processes that govern the way services are delivered and develop the ability to implement those services.
When and how did you come to GCASA?
I came in 2000. Before that, I had been the director of clinical operations at the Rochester Health Association, and about half of their programs were related to substance abuse. I left in 2000 and was looking for something else, and it just so happened that Sharon McWethy (GCASA's executive director at the time) was retiring.
What would you say has been your management philosophy during your 11 years at GCASA?
My overall philosophy is collaborative and participatory. I think it's important to understand what is important to all of the various stakeholders, whether these are clients, families, members of the community, etc. I guess I'd say I'm the opposite of an autocrat. I like to work in a way that elicits not just the cooperation, but the enthusiasm of the multiple stakeholders. That way, we can all work productively toward a common goal.
You are originally from, and currently live in, Brockport. Having worked in Genesee County through the DFC and through prevention, what has been your impression of the Genesee County community?
It's the most wonderful place I've worked in the world. And I'm not just sucking up -- I think it's the Garden of Eden. Everyone from the county executive to the Batavia city manager, to the schools to the legislature, has been great to work with. You get to know all of the officials on a very personal and collaborative level, and there's a great sense of overall collective welfare.
You don't get that in Monroe County--there's too much bureaucracy. It's more divided. There's not the kind of corruption (in Genesee or Orleans counties) that you see in Monroe County or Erie County, so it's easier to get things done. I think one of the reasons GCASA has won all these awards and been able to implement all these new programs is that the community is smaller and more tightly knit. The programs can be at a scale that's easier to design and implement.
The thing about both Genesee and Orleans counties is that even though these are rural communities, the people are very sophisticated. They're surprisingly well-educated. They have wonderful cultural opportunities because of their access to Buffalo and Rochester. So they have all the advantages of smaller, more tightly knit communities plus these cultural benefits.
The people I know (in Genesee County) are very good people. They have very good values and integrity. Working and living here has been extremely satisfying and fulfilling.
GCASA has been noted for giving employees the benefit of flexible schedules, as well as flexibility in how they manage their work projects. Some people in the business world would say this is the wrong thing to do, because it leads to a drop in productivity. How would you defend your workplace policies at GCASA?
At GCASA, we have created an atmosphere that I would like to believe is empowering to employees. And overall, it's been extremely effective. We get great outcomes, our employee satisfaction is pretty high, and we have one of the best workplaces in New York State. The fact that we've won national awards for our work says that we must be doing something right.
One thing that we, as managers, have to realize is that our employees are adults. They manage their own lives, and we should be able to respect their integrity and maturity. I don't understand why a lot of organizations feel they have to micromanage their employees. There is protocol (for workplace projects, etc.), sure -- but no one knows how to do the work better than the people who are actually engaged in it.
As a manager, my concern is with results -- which is why, when I started at GCASA, one of the first things I did was develop an outcome-based job description. A lot of job descriptions are output-based.
Our employees are adults, so we expect them to be able to get the work done (without having to micromanage them)...There are a lot of ways management works with employees to determine the "what." How they get there depends. Employees should always have opportunities to conduct themselves in a way that works for them, as long as they're getting their work done and as long as they're respecting their coworkers.
You had two young children who were killed by a drunk driver in 1993. How has that influenced your work in the field of alcohol and substance abuse?
Well, I was in the field beforehand -- that's the irony of it. It just goes to show that it can happen to anyone. I would have been doing the work I've been doing regardless. But has it influenced my enthusiasm and passion for the work? Absolutely. And I also think it has influenced my credibility when I speak at Victim Impact Panels. I try to be professional about it, but my personal experience is brought to bear.
A lot of these issues can be seen as academic, professional, or as policy issues, which they are. But these personal stories make it more real for folks. It's like (they say), "Reality is when it happens to you." Substance abuse is a lethal disease, whether we're talking about liver disease from alcohol abuse or silly nonsense like drinking and driving. Tragedies show the importance of a healthy and high-functioning community.
Do you have any words of advice for your successor?
Well, it's an easy transition, because John Bennett (former director of GCASA's treatment services) and I share a lot of the same values. I guess what I would say to John is, first of all, to be understanding of our collaborators and have healthy, meaningful, positive relationships with all stakeholders. We work across systems. I think what has made GCASA so successful is its great collaborative partners. It's a lot of work, but if we work to maintain those relationships, we'll be okay.
What do you plan to do now?
I'm going to continue with my private practice on a part-time basis. I've been working two jobs for years, and I'm finally at a point in my life where I can work just one. I'm also involved in a lot of activities for the Village of Brockport and for my church. Finally, I plan on spending more time with family -- I have seven children and 13 grandchildren.
Markham's birthday is Christmas Day. He will be 66.
All too often a person with a mental illness cycles in and out of the criminal justice system, never really getting the kind of assistance he or she needs to break the pattern.
They may stop taking their meds, get high on drugs or alcohol, and wind up committing a crime. They are no less culpable for their actions, but they can make better choices, move forward and be less likely to get into trouble, if they plug into the many resources available to them in Genesee County.
So say the proponents of the Mental Health Treatment Court, which is a new division of Batavia City Court. It accepted its first case last June, before being officially designated as a mental health court in November.
On March 23, an opening ceremony will take place at the courthouse with many of the stakeholders present, including the Hon. Robert J. Balbick, who also presides over city and drug treatment courts and the "veterans' track" cases.
JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. What's on your mind this morning?
JOE: I was just reflecting on yesterday's field trip.
CALLIOPE: Where to?
JOE: Spiritus Christi Mental Health Center in Rochester.
CALLIOPE: What prompted that?
JOE: Several things. I had wanted to see what they were doing. I have considered volunteering there. Mostly I went since I committed myself to doing so as part of my involvement in the Mental Health Board in Genesee County.
CALLIOPE: What did you discover?
JOE: A unique undertaking. As far as anyone knows, they are the only such operation in the country.
CALLIOPE: Tell me more.
JOE: They have two full time employees. All of the psychiatrists and therapists volunteer time to see patients. They are funded by Spiritus Christi Church donations and a second hand furniture shop. They don't have to deal with any of the state, federal or insurance company regulations and treat uninsured and underinsured patients for free.
CALLIOPE: I never hear of such a thing.
JOE: Neither have I before discovering them.
CALLIOPE: Are you still planning to volunteer?
JOE: I want to see how things go with Americorps first. But that's a story for tomorrow. Talk with you then.
JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. How are you today?
JOE: Mulling a self revelation.
CALLIOPE: Sounds like there might be a story to it.
JOE: There is. Yesterday I spent the morning at a meeting with mental health staff and fellow board members.
CALLIOPE: How did it go?
JOE: Mixed. The first part was a pleasant exchange and presentation with the staff. The second part turned to some thorny issues.
CALLIOPE: Where did you find the revelation?
JOE: We were discussing staffing and the issue of AmeriCorps came up. Someone wished I was available for their project rather than already committed to the arts council.
CALLIOPE: And your response?
JOE: I realized only as I said it that there are many personal issues related to mental health involving my family which make it hard for me to be any more involved with the field than I am now.
CALLIOPE: Is that what made you turn to writing instead of mental health?
JOE: In retrospect, I think so. I have plenty of experiences to draw on but don't want to revisit them, at least the personal ones.
CALLIOPE: Good realization.
JOE: I thought so. Talk with you tomorrow.