4.26.2012

A Whirlwind Month In Washington DC

Well hell, it seems like I'm rarely able to find enough time to even post here anymore, and that is beginning to suck for me. 

Some time ago, when my ol friend, mentor and former boss Will "Big Willy C" Connelly informed me that he would be leaving his position as supervisor of an outreach team for a training gig, I told him that the farther up the chain he climbed in the administration world, the less connected he'd actually be to those that the administration actually served.  BWC has come full circle today, as he has left that administrative/training position to take over a Street Outreach team for Pathways to Housing here in Washington DC! 

But I digress.

My point above was just to illustrate how easy it is to get sucked into the paper pushing portion of the work we do and lose sight of what all that paper, all those meetings, all the phone conferences, all the travel, all the political wrangling, all the collaboration (and efforts to get peeps together to collaborate), and all the strange hours one spends trying to get it all together in a coherent way is actually for. 

So for the past couple of weeks, I've been in DC with those who are actually doing work.  Not that I'm not doing work, but, as so many of my colleagues say, the folks we're working with here this week and the last are where the "rubber meets the road."

Last week, it was working with the 20 grantees of the Mental Health Transformation Grant (MHTG) program at their annual Grantee meeting hosted by Policy Research Associates.  Have to say, the folks at PRA are some outstanding pros who approach what they do with more professionalism and passion than just about any other group I've met at this level, and my respect for them and what they bring to the table is off the charts. 

Most noteworthy of that meeting however, was the 3rd day session that the BRSS TACS MHTG Consumer Advisor, Ray Bridge, coordinated and led.  This opportunity allowed the Consumer Leaders of each grant recipient to bring their suggestions and ideas for our annual Consumer Leadership Forum.  These are some very smart, very passionate, and very energized folks who know what we're trying to do is not simply transform the Behavioral Health community; they see it as a civil rights movement as well.  A comment in a session with the Leaders continues to stand out in my mind (I'm paraphrasing a bit here, but you'll get the jist): "Unlike previous civil rights battles, we are the first group of people who've been oppressed by the larger community through a label of oppression placed upon us by them, rather than by some physical trait that immediately stands us apart, such as color."

Give it a sec and let that sink in.  She's saying here that we've been oppressed through stigma based on the labeling of the community, rather than because we are noticeably "different" than they are at first glance. Hadn't ever thought about it this way before, and it was a stunning realization for me.


We left that meeting last Friday with enough consensus and detail to begin planning in earnest for the upcoming Consumer Leadership Forum, and jetted back to our humble locales for the weekend.

This week, the C4 gang has been in Reston, a subbie of the DC area, to host the first annual Policy Academy under the BRSS TACS contract.  This year, we've brought 8 state teams together from around the country to devise a plan for integrating mental health and addiction services within their communities, and work together to help transform behavioral health in their respective states.  One bright spot of many for me was to see Tennessee at this academy, and this is particularly important given that for many of the state's most marginalized, services are damned hard to find, let alone come by.  So it is with a lot of personal commitment and passion that I work with my colleagues on the execution side to do whatever I can to ensure that the folks from TN, as well as Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and the others all have what they need to get immediately down to work with no distractions typical in most start-up efforts.

This week has had some very long days as we've worked to make it happen, but those long hours appear to have paid off based on the comments we've been receiving as feedback.  One thing I've discovered as I've worked with my company to make  system transformation more than just a dream is that the task itself is enormous, for reasons frankly mostly unrelated to providing the actual services to folks in an integrated fashion.  There's a philosophical divide that permeates these efforts, and there's a tremendous amount of ignorance on both sides as to what the other is doing, saying, and defining. Finding common ground and commonalities between Addiction and Mental Health is a priority, but it ain't easy. 

Perhaps most problematic is the definition of Recovery itself.  This is not a new dispute, and to its credit, SAMHSA has spent years trying to find something that works for everyone.  Their current working definition, "A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential," seems to capture the essence, but I have to warn you that by the time you read this, it's possible that it may have changed, so I wouldn't quote this definition unless you confirm it at their site.  

Now, you'd think, if you were on the outside looking in and didn't actually have to really invest a lot of time on one side of the issue or the other in the finesse of the definition, that this would cover it.  But the understanding of Recovery is different depending on which group - Addiction or Mental Health - you ask, and the reason for that is...well...because recovery is viewed through lenses unique to each cohort and there's no simple bridge because of the philosophical divide between them.

So just trying to come up with an understanding of what it means to be "in recovery" versus "recovered" versus "recovery" becomes not only a monumental task, but also a challenge to get folks aligned enough to move forward beyond it.  If ya can't define it, it's pretty hard to create policies around it.  

I've been sprouting gray hairs by the hundreds over the past several months around things like this, and adding hundreds more on a weekly - and sometimes daily - basis just trying to race around the corners of my learning curves on literally dozens of topics. This of course does not take into account a role as a Project Director that demands skillsets not yet necessarily locked down by yours truly.  

It's a rare time indeed when I have the luxury of putting down random synaptic firings here on ye ol Stone Soup Station, and that I've deviated so far from the "Homelessness" focus of this blog doesn't help incentivize me to continue writing.

So I may have to redefine the parameters of this blog, even though ultimately the conditions and symptoms and situations of mental illness and addiction often underlie homelessness.  The sheer scope of my  involvement in ending homelessness has become so large as to almost remove the issue of homelessness per se from the picture.  

The words I spoke to Big Willy C years ago seem to be more appropriate for me now than for him..... 

Smiling does a body good

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