Monthly Archives: March 2017

Students learn rights and speak up…as important now as it ever was

Community Advocates held its “Self-Advocacy Training”  at Hopeworx in Norristown on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. There were 24 participants at the 3-part interactive training where students learned to use their voices by knowing their resources, honing their negotiating skills and speaking up in an assertive, respective manner. A Community Rights Handbook was reviewed. The training ended with a film created by Hopeworx/CST/Community Advocates staff titled “A Call for Change.”




Great class. Very smart students! It’s your voice. Be heard!

Kathie Mitchell

Advocacy Coalition to monitor closing of NSH civil units

Coalition for the Responsible Closure of

The Norristown State Hospital Civil Unit

February 27, 2017

Letter to:  Ted Dallas, Secretary of Human Services and Dennis Marion, Deputy Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Dear Secretary Dallas and Deputy Secretary Marion:

As members of the Coalition for the Responsible Closure of the Norristown State Hospital (NSH) Civil Unit, we are writing to request a meeting to discuss the process that will be used to close the Civil Unit.

Our coalition—comprising representatives of mental health advocacy groups across the commonwealth—applauds efforts to support more individuals in the community, and we are generally supportive of the closure.

However, we have concerns about the processes that will be put in place to support the individuals currently residing at NSH. These concerns were echoed by nearly everyone testifying regarding the closure at NSH on January 31st.

In particular, we believe that:

  •  The state must view this as a closure and not simply a larger-scale Community Hospital Integration Projects Program (CHIPP) effort. Substantial resources will need to be invested in the community to support this transition.
  •  The state must ensure that all individuals leaving the NSH Civil Unit are discharged into the community, with the services and supports to ensure a successful transition. There must be no transfers to other state hospitals or to South Mountain Restoration Center.
  • Because the future of continued CHIPP funding is currently uncertain, the state must annualize CHIPP funding that is not subject to block granting or included in base funding.
  • Every person must have a fully operational and thoroughly vetted individual plan modeled after the Community Support Plan process used in past state hospital closings.
  • This initiative must be funded with no artificial cap and must also include dollars to repair and support our community-based service system, which is currently underfunded and operating with limited capacity.
  • The monies made available by the closing of the NSH Civil Unit, and any additional funds allocated to successfully accomplish the closing, must follow the discharged individuals into the community, and be indicated in the budget as an uncuttable line item.
  • The closure should be coordinated with the forensic litigation and the courts related to individuals with current charges residing in the NSH Civil Unit.
  • The state must invest in a team of mobile advocates who can work to protect the rights of individuals transitioning to the community, to ensure that their voices are heard and their choices are respected in service planning and that the settings they move to are of a high quality and free of abuse or exploitation.

Our coalition members have a wealth of experience with past state hospital closures, and would welcome the opportunity to contribute to making sure that this initiative is successful. If the state and the advocacy groups work collaboratively, we can ensure that the individuals in the discharge and diversion groups—that is, everyone affected by the closing—do not fall through the cracks, and that they go on to enjoy successful lives in the community.

We request an initial meeting as soon as possible between Secretary Dallas, Deputy Secretary Marion, and representatives of our coalition to plan for the closure. We also request that the state convene a stakeholders group shortly thereafter.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to a response at your earliest convenience. Please contact Joseph Rogers, National Policy and Advocacy Consultant of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania at or 267.507.3844.


 Community Advocates of Montgomery County (Kathie Mitchell, Director)

 Disability Rights Pennsylvania (Peri Jude Radecic, CEO)

 NAMI of Pennsylvania Montgomery County (Abby Grasso, M.S.W., Executive Director)

 NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania (Christine Michaels, Executive Director)

 Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania (Sue Walther, Executive Director)

 Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (Michael Brody, President and CEO; Joseph Rogers, National Policy and Advocacy Consultant; Alyssa Schatz, M.S.W., Vice President of Advocacy)

 Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association (Lynn Keltz, Executive Director)


 Bucks County Department of Mental Health/Developmental Programs (Donna Duffy-Bell, Administrator)

 Bureau of Community and Hospital Operations (Phil Mader, Director)

 Chester County Department of Mental Health/Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (Gary F. Entrekin, Administrator)

 Delaware County Office of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities (Jonna L. DiStefano, Administrator)

 Montgomery County Department of Behavioral Health/Developmental Disabilities (Pam Howard, Administrator)

 Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (David T. Jones, Acting Commissioner)

 Southeast Regional Mental Health Services Coordination Office (Tory Bright, Southeast Regional Mental Health Services Coordinator)

 Aidan Altenor

 Robbie Altenor


Scent of a boxwood puts politics at bay

By: Kathie Mitchell

As I jogged around my neighborhood this morning, a subtle but familiar scent floated by. It was the scent of boxwood, a fragrant evergreen shrub that triggers pleasant memories from my childhood every time I happen to smell it.


Ironically, I had recently been trying to remember the name of this bush as I described it to our justice and recovery class at the county jail as a trigger of a positive memory. Until I passed by the yard this morning, I had not recalled the name. Suddenly as I inhaled deeply, “boxwood” promptly appeared in my mind.  The recall shows just how powerful a “person, place or thing” can be. The taste of a certain food, a smell of a flower, the words of a song – they can all invoke powerful feelings and memories. What we do with those feelings is important. During the class, we talk about identifying triggers that can cause thoughts or behaviors that may get us into trouble. Sometimes, however, a trigger can result in a positive experience.


As I continued my jog listening to the early morning tweets from numerous birds and looking up at the clouds and blue sky, I made a mental note to tell the students at class tomorrow that my trigger was boxwoods. I wanted to tell them how it changed my state of my mind for much of the day.  For at that instant when my olfactory senses made the connection, my mind was running through the day – what happened earlier in the morning, what will happen later, what I have to do that night. At this particular moment, I was mentally reviewing some other morning tweets about the Republicans’ proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the effect on Medicaid…some rather troubling thoughts.


As quickly as the fragrance hit me, it was gone. But so were the negative ruminations! I became intensely aware of everything around me. The cool spring-like air was invigorating.  A gentle breeze swayed the bare branches of large trees as I gazed upward at the blue sky, puffs of clouds meandering through and above the waving limbs. The color of scarlet became cardinals; black and white bobbing specks on a bird feeder transformed into finches. I became aware of the absence of car noise and other sounds of human awakenings.


I became mindful. I slowed to a walk. I wanted to be totally in the present, purposefully inhaling and exhaling slowly and taking an inventory of my blessings in the moment. The practice of mindfulness is another approach we have introduced to our class that helps promote calmness and an ability to focus in our students.  I thought about the boxwood bushes that used to grace the front lawn of my late grandmother’s home. I remembered her smiling face and the happiness she exuded every time I visited. She was a shining light in my life and a beacon of hope, safety and love.


Thanks to the scent of a boxwood, hours after my running shoes were put away, that light in my life is still shining.