Local Agency First in Omaha to Seek Certification for Innovative Mental Health Care Model

A grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has been awarded to Community Alliance to support implementation of a best-practice care model designed to increase access and improve coordination of mental health services across the lifespan. OMAHA, NE: Community Alliance has been awarded a grant that will support the organization’s efforts to be recognized as a Certified Community Behavioral Health Center (CCBHC) by the end of this calendar year. The first agency in Omaha and only the third in Nebraska to seek this designation, the organization aspires to transform the delivery of mental health care in Omaha by utilizing an evidence-based approach for coordination of care across the lifespan. According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, these highly-specialized centers represent the first significant change in approach to mental health care delivery in decades. Built on robust national standards of care, CCBHCs are at the forefront of expanding access to care and improving outcomes for those with mental illness and substance use challenges. States with established CCBHCs have seen a high return on the investment- both in terms of superior client outcomes and in total costs. The model has also shown promise in reducing costly hospitalizations and emergency room visits, while decreasing the burden on other agencies less equipped to treat someone experiencing a mental health crisis.  At its core, the CCBHC model is focused on treating the whole person- integrating mental health care with other essential services and best-practice approaches to treatment. This is all accomplished in a “one stop shop” environment designed to help both clients and their families with recovery. Community Alliance adopted a framework of integrated care that is supported by four pillars- mental health, physical health, social wellbeing, and contribution and purpose.  The agency has a primary health clinic embedded within their facility that serves as a medical home for the clients they treat. This important next step towards becoming a CCBHC will capitalize on the depth of knowledge and experience the organization already has, and pair it with evidence-based national standards of excellence. “This is truly incredible news for us- and even more so for Omaha and our region. We’ve been serving this community for forty years, and achieving this designation will mean we can move forward into the future knowing we are at the leading-edge of mental health care” said Carole Boye, chief executive officer of Community Alliance. “These funds will help us write the next chapter of caring for this community’s mental health in the way the evidence tells us is best- it is very exciting”. To demonstrate a commitment to hiring the best and brightest talent to help move the organization forward into this next chapter, Community Alliance has recently revamped its compensation and benefits package for employees. Wages have been adjusted to align with the current market, and the organization has added tuition reimbursement and paid professional licensing fees to its comprehensive benefits package. Additionally, the organization is offering hiring bonuses to new hires. “We are thrilled to be able to offer our dedicated employees more competitive wages and also some new benefits,” said Boye. “We need the community’s help to spread the word. We want to attract qualified candidates who are eager to be part of this innovative center of excellence- and we truly believe the model will offer valuable experience to both seasoned and new graduate mental health professionals.” Community Alliance is actively seeking multiple new staff who have experience working with both adults and youth. Licensed healthcare providers, advanced practice psychiatric nurses, licensed and provisionally licensed therapists, those who are dually credentialed in mental health and substance use, bachelor’s prepared rehabilitation specialists, and case managers are in high need. The organization also needs professionals at all levels to fill spots in various agency and community-based programs. “We know prospective employees have a lot of options- especially in healthcare. We want to be seen as an employer of choice in the mental health space” said Aileen Brady, chief operating officer. “If you’re interested in being part of meaningful change and helping transform the way we care for individuals experiencing mental illness or substance use disorders- we want to hear from you.” Brady encourages interested persons to contact Community Alliance to discuss opportunities. There are currently 340 established CCBHCs in forty states- including two in Lincoln, Nebraska. For more information, you can go to www.thenationalcouncil.org and visit the “CCBHC Success Center” tab. Community Alliance is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit mental health agency founded in 1981 and serving clients across the lifespan. The organization provides an array of mental health and support services for both individuals and families. You can learn more at www.community-alliance.org.

Community Alliance – Reflecting on 40 Years

“One of the benefits of celebrating anniversaries, especially a milestone anniversary, is the opportunity to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going,” said Carole Boye, Community Alliance CEO.  That’s exactly what we asked her and Community Alliance’s Chief Operating Officer Aileen Brady to do in a recent interview about the agency’s 40th Anniversary. “We both had the privilege of knowing and working with the founders from the very beginning – mothers and fathers with adult children living with serious mental illness,” Boye related. “What an amazing opportunity it was to be a part of helping fulfill their vision of a better quality of life for their adult children and others facing mental illness from the very beginning.”     It Started with Listening “It all started with listening,” said Brady, who was a volunteer with the organization in 1981 and joined the staff in year two. “We listened to the people we serve, to family members, and to our community about their needs and concerns, and what they wanted, and what we heard formed the foundation of every program developed these last 40 years.” Initially, the families wanted a safe place for their adult children to live independently, so Community Alliance developed supportive housing programs, first through leasing apartments, then by building them. Today, the agency owns and operates more than 100 apartment units and 48 group residential beds scattered across the city. Similarly, the agency’s homeless services began in response to listening to area emergency shelters who noted the high prevalence of mental illness among their guests. This led to the development of the community’s first homeless outreach team and setting up an evening clinic where people experiencing homelessness could access initial mental health services with the help of the outreach workers. Day programs, employment programs, the introduction of national best practice models like assertive community treatment, SOAR and first episode psychosis, along with family education and peer support all followed a similar course.  Listening has also been essential to implementation of Community Alliance’s integrated care model.  “We were hearing from too many clients that their physical health concerns were being routinely dismissed by primary care doctors as a symptom of their mental illness and we were seeing too many struggling with illnesses that could and should be treated,” Brady said. This coupled with national data showing a 20- to 25-year early mortality rate among those with serious mental illness, attributable in large part to treatable physical health conditions, led Community Alliance to add primary health care to its continuum of care. “Our approach to integrated care continues to evolve each and every day as we work to identify and address the full range of a person’s individual needs – mental health, physical health, social wellbeing and socio-economic support,” she added. The Story Behind the Name “We are often asked about our name”, reflected Boye, as the conversation continued. “Our founders initially considered aligning themselves with an existing mental health agency or hospital, knowing that starting a new nonprofit from scratch was a formidable task. But their real vision was (1) to develop a resource that was available to anyone, any family who was struggling with a mental health challenge regardless of which doctor or therapist they saw and (2) to educate and align the entire community in support of these individuals. That’s why we were born as a free-standing agency, with an initial Board of family members working alongside mental health professionals and business leaders from across the community. Our founders wanted and created an alliance of the community working together on behalf of those living with mental illness, therefore the name – Community Alliance.” Progress Over the Years Both leaders pointed with pride to the agency’s pioneering approach throughout its 40-year history, going beyond traditional treatment services to help people achieve social well-being and purpose. “We have definitely moved from a care-taking approach to a recovery approach,” said Boye. “Helping people to live, work, learn and contribute: that’s our mission statement and one that I think articulates this change,” Boye continued. “Instead of hospitalization, we work alongside individuals in the community to build on their inherent strengths, emphasize wellness over illness, and help them realize their unique potential through contribution and connectedness with family and community.”  “Also of note is the rise of self-advocacy over these past 40 years”, said Brady. “The voices of individuals and family members have grown exponentially, helping to reduce the stigma and improve the quality and responsiveness of services. As people most directly affected by these illnesses have found their voices, they have become the leaders of their own recovery which is how it should be. Their voices have also promoted greater awareness and willingness for people to speak out about needing help and advocating for greater resources”. Supporting our Community into the Future “Our vision and goals for the future start with maintaining – and expanding – this alliance of the community on behalf of those facing mental illness,” Boye offered. “We want to build on the advances in treatment that have been made and make sure people have access to that treatment whenever and wherever they need it. We want to move beyond what I call our system’s ‘Stage 4’ mentality, meaning that you don’t have to wait until the mental health challenge you are facing has reached a critical or crisis stage before you can get help.”  “We want to continue to provide a place where people feel welcome – a place where people are treated with dignity and respect, where they feel hope, and where they are helped to develop the strengths and tools needed to overcome whatever mental health challenge they are facing. We want to be the center of excellence for individuals with mental health challenges across their lifespan while we continue to expand our partnerships with others throughout the community,” she concluded. Help is within reach At Community Alliance, we offer a full range of integrated health services including primary and psychiatric care, mental health and substance use counseling, rehabilitation and employment services, supportive housing, and community, family and peer supports.

Visual Logo of 40th Anniversary

Celebrating 40 Years of Staying True to our Vision, Values and Purpose

Forty years ago, she was sitting around the kitchen table with the five people who founded Community Alliance, recalls Carole Boye, Chief Executive Officer. “All five were parents of adult children who had a serious mental illness. Each parent spoke of the heartache and frustration they felt as their children faced a revolving door of hospitalization and institutionalization – with seemingly little or no hope of a ‘normal’ adult life of work, family and independence,” Boye explained. Yet, it was these five parents – Don and Dorothy Wilson, Dorothy Woodall, Diana and Serge Schwarz – who spoke of the vision and hope that came with forming a new agency – an agency dedicated to forging an “alliance within our community” for something better for their children and for all who live with a major mental illness.  All involved agreed that Community Alliance would be a pioneer in the field of mental health as they outlined important guiding values, like dignity and respect for those living with mental illness. “Even then, they envisioned an organization that would go beyond traditional psychiatric treatment and medication to focus on the practical aspects of being able to live a meaningful life, including having a safe and decent place to live, supportive relationships, taking personal responsibility and contributing something back to the community.” These would become the founding principles of Community Alliance. 40 years later, these founding principles and values remain ingrained in the organization’s DNA. A Powerful History of Making a Positive Impact “What we’ve learned and demonstrated over these 40 years is that access to best practice psychiatric care and medications is essential,” Boye continued. “But so is addressing a person’s physical health needs and social well-being. All come together to support a purposeful life and meaningful roles and contribution to family, friends and community.”   “From serving 3 people that first year, to more than 3,200 this past year, our role remains the same,” she concluded. “We are proud of the broad and comprehensive array of services and supports that we have built, and even more, of the positive impact we have had – and continue to have – on the lives of those we serve and our community.” Service Milestones As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, we thought we might share some of the agency’s history and major milestones. 1981 – Community Alliance incorporated in Nebraska as the first organization to focus on residential and community support services for adults with mental illness. 1982 – Agency opens first psychiatric day rehabilitation center in Nebraska.  1983 –Vocational services added to expand community employment opportunities. 1986 – National demonstration grant received to develop specialized services for persons with mental illness who are homeless. 1989 – Federal housing loan supports construction of affordable, supportive housing; first of seven federal housing awards received for construction of apartments and group residential facilities. 1992 – All programs earn national accreditation through CARF; agency programs have continuously maintained full accreditation since that time.  1995 – Community Alliance dedicates building at 4001 Leavenworth as its new headquarters. 1997 – Breaking the Silence community-wide educational event kicks off with actress Mariette Hartley as inaugural speaker.  1999 – Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter is featured speaker at 3rd annual Breaking the Silence event. 2001 –Community Alliance receives “Provider of the Year”, “Metropolitan Community Development”, and “Building a City of Neighbors” awards. 2003 – Family Education Services become formalized. 2006 – Community Alliance expands its day rehabilitation, community support, and housing services.   2011 – SOAR program, a national best-practices model assisting individuals with the complex application process for Social Security disability, integrated within Community Alliance’s array of services. 2012 – Safe Harbor, an innovative peer-run crisis diversion service, offering on-site support for up to 24 hours as well as telephone “warm” line services is established; proves effective in diverting emergency room visits and hospitalizations. 2013 – Community Alliance adds primary health clinic to its service array to help address prevalence of chronic disease and early mortality among people with serious mental illness together with expanding psychiatric and counseling services as part of integrated care model. 2014 – Community Alliance receives the 2014 ‘Recovery Award’, given by the state’s Director of Behavioral Health Services to an agency that improves behavioral health in Nebraska and furthers individual recovery. 2016 – New services introduced for adolescents and young adults who are experiencing their first episode of mental illness.  2018 – Agency receives the 2018 Integrity Award, given by the Better Business Bureau to organizations that demonstrate a sustained commitment to ethical business practices and going above and beyond in serving their stakeholders and their community. 2020 – Community Alliance launches partnership with Nebraska Health and Human Services and Public Health Division under federal SAMHSA grant with goal of advancing a replicable model of integrated health service delivery for adults with serious mental illness.  Telehealth services, along with other adaptations, introduced across all program areas in response to pandemic.  Help is Within Reach At Community Alliance, we offer a full range of integrated health services including primary and psychiatric care, mental health and substance use counseling, rehabilitation and employment services, supportive housing, and community, family and peer supports and more. Resources: Assertive Community Treatment Breaking the Silence Community Support Rehabilitation Services Family & Peer Support Psychiatric & Counseling Services Safe Harbor Peer Crisis Services SOAR Telehealth

Photo of Mary Ahern, Peer Support Supervisor

Making Peer Support a Virtual Experience

Loneliness and isolation and its impact on clients has been a key concern for the team at Community Alliance throughout the pandemic.  “We know that the very measures needed to protect physical health during this time – things like social distancing, wearing masks and limiting face-to-face contact – can negatively impact mental health,” Aileen Brady, Community Alliance COO, explained. “So we looked at different ways to proactively address this concern and, with the help of federal emergency mental health funding, called on Mary Ahern, Community Alliance’s peer support supervisor, to help create an ongoing support group virtually.” Leadership from a Place of Understanding Mary has been a part of Community Alliance for nearly 10 years, starting with her involvement in the Day Rehabilitation Program. “Day Rehab gave me the skills to move on. Then, I volunteered to help facilitate classes,” Mary offered. “When there was a part-time position open for a Peer Support Specialist, I applied for the job and got it!  From there I became a full-time staff member and then became a supervisor.” “At Community Alliance, we operate under four domains: home, health, purpose and community. With this peer support telehealth program, we focused on community and it worked – starting our first online peer support classes with 20 individuals.”  Learning Thriving Skills “In our classes we try not to refer to ‘coping skills’ because that sounds like you are simply trying to cope with a mental health issue. It sounds like you’re just getting by. Instead, we like to say ‘thriving skills’, which means the person is growing in their recovery.”  “In this group we really advocate for one another. For example, several people in the group wanted to change their housing. We talked about resources and options and helped each other out. Group members are especially interested in employment services like Community Alliance’s employment program, and they’ve even formed friendship bonds where they are offering recommended reading lists and sharing books. Members of the group really look out for each other,” Mary said. Telehealth Peer Support is available four days a week – with different areas of focus: COVID-related issues Recovery topics Self esteem Communication skills and more Everyone in the group is encouraged to develop and practice their own motto that is meaningful and significant for each individual.  Group participants are all encouraged to find something that’s going to work for them. “It’s very personal and they really take it to heart. We revisit and make a point to ask everyone how that statement or motto is working to help them in their life,” Mary explained. “If we think someone is feeling down on a particular day, we’ll stop the group and go around to everyone on the Zoom call and we’ll each say something encouraging to them. Or we’ll offer a thriving skill we’ve used ourselves that they can use to help boost their mood,” Mary continued.  Support, Encourage, Empathize, Educate, Motivate and Advocate  Peer Support Services at Community Alliance, including the telehealth class, uses a formula called the SEEEMA model which means Support, Encourage, Empathize, Educate, Motivate and Advocate.  When peers meet one-on-one, or as a group of individuals, this model provides a guide for interaction based on what the individual needs at that time. This model was developed by Jai Sookram, PhD, Program Manager for Family Education and Peer Support Services at Community Alliance.  The model is effective in part because relationships between peers is based on mutual support and empowerment.  Relationships are made strong because peers support and encourage each other based on recovery experience that enables recovery and thriving beyond illnesses.  We heal better in peer relationships than in isolation.   “We have one member of our group who was feeling worthless. She didn’t speak up often and she had extremely low self-esteem.  However, she had no problem telling other people they were worthwhile,” Mary observed. “Now, she has established her own motto which is encouraging for her, saying and believing she is truly worthwhile. And now she is the first to offer up answers for our brain games or share during our topic discussions.” “Another success story is with an individual that wouldn’t look in the camera on the Zoom calls, because he felt unattractive,” Mary continued. “As a group, we made a point of encouraging him to look at us – saying things like. ‘Oh, you’re handsome!’ or ‘You look like a college student.’ We just kind of helped him to accept himself and feel comfortable with himself, just as he is. Today, he gives credit to the group for this big shift in focus to where he can say, ‘I look good!’ These are the things that really warm my heart.” Coming Together in Real Life The whole Telehealth Peer Support community has come together.  Since the group is now fully vaccinated, they are anticipating the time when everyone can come together in person for a celebration.  Everyone in the group is abuzz about their upcoming potluck party and excited to plan what they’ll contribute. “They know what type of food they’re bringing. One gentleman’s going to make Chinese. Someone else signed up to bring egg salad. Another gentleman has volunteered to bring two bottles of pop and maybe cookies. Another group member is going to make a cherry delight,” Mary mentioned. “And the fellow who used to be self-conscious and was terribly worried over his looks? He’s offered to DJ the music and plan games.” Help is Within Reach At Community Alliance, we offer a full range of integrated health services including primary and psychiatric care, mental health and substance use counseling, rehabilitation and employment services, supportive housing, community, family and peer supports and more. Resources: Assertive Community Treatment Breaking the Silence Community Support Rehabilitation Services Family and Peer Support Psychiatric and Counseling Services Safe Harbor Peer Crisis Services SOAR Telehealth