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2006 Behavioral Health Champions: Passionate about their work

November 1, 2006
by Michael Levin-Epstein
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Profiles of the recipients of Behavioral Healthcare's second annual Behavioral Health Champions awards

The daily grind of behavioral healthcare can be exhausting. Caring for consumers with mental health and/or addiction disorders can take its toll on even the most seasoned professional, and devising and managing effective services for this population is challenging—especially in light of inadequate reimbursement. Yet many who choose to work in this field do find a way to excel, making real differences in the lives of the people, families, and communities they serve.

Last year we recognized some of these behavioral health "champions" (see the July/August 2005 issue of Behavioral Health Management), and we do so again this year. We hope you find their stories interesting, inspiring, and reenergizing your passion for your own work.

Firsthand Experience

Judy Reeves

Judy Reeves

When Judy Reeves offers advice to people with mental illness, she understands where they are coming from. Not only did she witness her mother's "nervous breakdown" and subsequent institutionalization, she also struggled for years to come to terms with her own depression.

This firsthand experience with mental illness enabled Reeves to become an aggressive champion for those "who cannot speak for themselves," says Reeves, who is the consumer affairs representative at Centerstone (a large community mental health organization based in Nashville). "Silence is not golden when it comes to our mental health," she says. "We have been silent for way too long."

Reeves' core belief is that people with mental illness will recover faster if they become involved in their own treatment services. "Consumers participate in Centerstone's Consumer and Family Advocacy Council, which provides insight for staff from both the consumers' and family members' points of view," she explains.

Most importantly, Reeves does not want people with mental illness to go through what she and her mother experienced. "My mother never talked about her illness due to the shame she felt. I want people to realize that the only shame is in not speaking up and seeking the services they so desperately need and are entitled to receive," she says.

For some time, Reeves thought her own illness was physically caused and was determined never to take psychiatric medication because of memories of her mother's "dead eyes and toneless voice." "For years, my mother was a zombie who ate, slept, and talked with her family using only two simple words—yes and no," she recalls. After attending educational monthly meetings at Centerstone's ReConnect peer support centers, Reeves realized that newer medications do not necessarily have deleterious side effects. "Armed with this treatment and a strong determination to inform and educate others about their illnesses, I felt I could make a difference in so many lives," she says.

And indeed she has. As a member of about a dozen behavioral health organizations, including the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers' Association, Reeves is a tireless consumer advocate. She has become the driving force (and committee chair) behind the Mental Health Memorial Project, which will honor her mother and the more than 2,300 individuals with mental illness buried on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital in Tennessee (years ago individual tombstones were "plowed under" and covered with a cornfield). "This memorial, which includes a monument that will be visible from planes landing at Nashville International Airport, will bring the beauty, respect, honor, and dignity to families who have loved ones buried there," Reeves says.

In recognition of her efforts, Reeves received an Excellence in Consumer and Family Support Award from the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare this year.

Cutting-Edge Executive

Ted Ziegler

Ted Ziegler

When a lab technician noted that three opiate addicts had tested positive for hepatitis C, Ted Ziegler didn't dismiss the remark as just another lab report. Instead, the CEO of the Community Health Center (CHC) in Akron, Ohio, called for additional testing of opiate-addicted patients. A whopping 85% tested positive for hepatitis C, and CHC became one of the first healthcare facilities in the United States to discover the disturbing link between hepatitis C and opiate addiction in intravenous drug users.

Now at CHC and other community health centers, intravenous drug users routinely are tested for hepatitis A, B, and C. At CHC, those testing positive for hepatitis C immediately are referred to an educator and support group coordinator, as well as provided brochures and other information about the disease.

Last month CHC sponsored a national conference on blood-borne pathogens to better educate providers on this issue. "Hepatitis C and HIV transmission in drug-using populations is preventable. The challenge is to anticipate the changing dynamics of the co-occurring and interrelated epidemics of drug use and hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, and to respond rapidly and effectively with preventive education," he says.

Ziegler has made a career of being on the cutting edge of behavioral health issues, especially in terms of diversifying his agency's revenue stream and providing CHC with long-term financial stability. For example, CHC developed temporary-to-permanent employment services for both the community and patient population. "Patients that are working are able to pay toward their service accounts," he explains. "We are becoming better in securing patient copays and fees for services."