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National Council's 40th Annual Conference: Restoring dignity

March 16, 2010
by Lindsay Barba, Associate Editor
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OptumHealth helps to honor forgotten consumers

Attendees at the National Council's 40th Annual Conference were given a first look at a traveling memorial designed to support the construction of The Gardens at Saint Elizabeths: A National Memorial of Recovered Dignity, a project that honors the more than 300,000 consumers buried in unmarked graves at state hospitals across the country.

OptumHealth, Inc. provided the traveling memorial and a $50,000 donation to support the national memorial, which will be located in Washington, D.C., and is scheduled to begin construction in 2011. The memorial will be built in an existing cemetery for psychiatric consumers and consist of metal markers representing all 50 states that list the number of patients buried and at which institutions, along with serene gardens and reflecting pools.

Susan Bergeson, OptumHealth's Vice President of Consumer Affairs, worked with Larry Fricks, the chair of the memorial project, to bring attention to the memorial's message of remembrance. (To learn more about the planning of the memorial, read Larry Fricks' article for Behavioral Healthcare here.) Bergeson recalls meeting with OptumHealth's senior leadership, who became very emotional after learning about the thousands of consumers who were abandoned and forgotten in unmarked graves across the nation.

OptumHealth's leaders were eager to get inolved and the decision to support the memorial was made in hopes of raising awareness as well as financial support for the project. "It means so much to me as a consumer," Bergeson says.

The traveling memorial, which was on display in the conference's exhibit hall, can be reserved by organizations such as local NAMI chapters and other consumer groups looking to spread the word about the memorial or simply raise awareness. A flat screen television, educational DVD, and other materials will be sent along with the display, and organizations may keep the materials to be used in future efforts.

To reserve the traveling memorial for an event or to make a donation to The Gardens at Saint Elizabeths: A National Memorial of Recovered Diginity, visit www.memorialofrecovereddignity.org.

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