By: Kathie Mitchell
Nancy Wieman can be described as a calming force in the middle of a windstorm. Whether it’s figuring out a budget, troubleshooting problems as they arise daily, or turning the mental health system on its head, she does it with a kind of grace that inspires those around her to dust off their shoes and step up to the plate.
In a career that spans 45 years, Nancy has gone from a vocational worker at Norristown State Hospital to Montgomery County’s Deputy Administrator of Mental Health. What she did along the way in her thoughtful, pragmatic style was learn from the people she served and always – yes, always – she made a plan.
The forever strategizer, her planful way helped her run a one-person county mental health office, change a system from medical to recovery and even plan how not to get wet in a recent high profile ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Does anyone know if donning a garbage bag is permitted?
Being prepared, anticipating change and thinking strategically were key elements that can be attributed to her success – or any success, Nancy said.
“What is certain is there’s always going to be change,” Nancy said in a recent interview. “If you can be out in front, it’s strategic to help shape it.”
So as Nancy faces her next phase of life – retirement – surprisingly she says she has no plans. But reflecting over her long career, she said the highlights include meeting people who inspired and taught her important lessons along the way. Lately, she’s been hearing from people who have thanked her for helping them and realizing that for many of these moments, she hadn’t even known that she’d made a difference.
“That’s very touching,” Nancy said. “I don’t know what to say. I will grieve this loss in my life.”
What she does know is that she will miss her work which began in the late 60s as a young vocational counselor at the state hospital which at the time housed 5,000 people. When she realized she wanted to stay in the field and become an administrator, she moved to utilization review which gave her the freedom to move from unit to unit reviewing patient charts. She gained firsthand experience of the inner workings of the state hospital, observing the staff and the treatment that was being delivered.
After working 18 years at the state hospital, Nancy decided to transition to the community and became the Deputy Administrator of Mental Health. For a short time, she was the only person in the office. Nancy decided she needed to learn firsthand about the individuals receiving services in the community and the providers who delivered the services.
“It was an enormous opportunity to build goodwill,” Nancy said. “I visited all the programs. I went out to shelters with case managers. I did that my whole career. I wanted to see where people lived and what it’s like to be a worker.”
One of the most dramatic impacts on Nancy’s view of mental health and her social work philosophy was when she realized that her job wasn’t to help people who couldn’t take care of themselves. When she realized people can and do recover from mental illness, it changed everything.
“My idea of help changed over time,” Nancy said. “What I had presumed about people really wasn’t the truth. I grew with it over time. My hope is that anyone can do that. You have to be open and honest with people and you grow.”
Nancy was willing to take steps and certain risks to try new things. It was the late 80s, state hospital downsizing began and Community Hospital Integration Projects Program (CHIPP) monies were available from the state. These monies helped counties develop housing and supports for individuals coming out of the hospital as well as build and expand the current infrastructure. In 1997, the county implemented HealthChoices where it began to manage the public mental health dollars and move forward with its vision for the community. Over these years, the county was able to increase its staff as the community programs and opportunities grew.
Nancy pointed to 2003 as the year that major change took place in the county’s mental health system when the recovery approach officially replaced the medical model with the adoption of the county’s Partnership of Recovery – Journey of Hope initiative.
“There had always been a different approach (different tools to help people) until it was a personal journey,” Nancy said. “The journey was about the individual and the tools were there to help. It made sense to me.”
Another life-changing event that Nancy said gave her new insight and empathy was being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993.
“I learned firsthand what it means to live with a serious illness, how to manage it and the anxiety that comes with diagnosis and treatment,” Nancy said. “Something deep inside you changes. At least with me it did.”
In addition, Nancy experienced peer support in her own life for the first time. While in the hospital, Nancy received a call from Jane Ballard, a volunteer with Reach for Recovery who is also a breast cancer survivor. Jane reached out to Nancy and supported her during her recovery and a lifelong friendship began. Nancy herself became a Reach for Recovery volunteer.
“When we began to discuss peer support in the mental health system, I didn’t even have to think about it,” Nancy said. “I knew it worked.”
Nancy also has embraced the idea of a trauma informed delivery care system as recent research has revealed that the majority of individuals with serious mental illness have suffered trauma in their lives. Finding out “what happened to you” was a different framework and changed the whole dynamics, Nancy said.
And change is still happening. Community mental health funds are shrinking. There is a lot of belt tightening and cuts have been made to some programs to make way for new ones. Nancy helped spearhead the creation of a Behavioral Health Court that diverts individuals with mental illness from jail into community treatment. There is also a Justice Related Services Department that combines staff from the county, Montgomery County Correctional Facility, Probation and Parole, MCES, the county Public Defender’s Office and Community Advocates to work on finding appropriate supports for individuals coming out of jail.
Mental health funds have been consolidated into a Human Services Block Grant and are now the responsibility of the county commissioners. While some opponents have expressed concern about managing community mental health dollars at the local level, Nancy said the redesign of human services may be another opportunity for growth.
“I don’t think we should be afraid of it,” Nancy said. “You do not want it to happen to you. You want to be there fashioning it.”
Here at Hopeworx, we’ve been struck with some bad luck. Our blue van, which was in service for 12 years was struck while it was parked right before the Thanksgiving holiday. After an evaluation from a body shop, we were saddled with the sad news that the van was totaled. This has put us in a delicate predicament for we depended on that van to transport not only our employees but members of the Hopemarket, our community trading post. We also use the vans to transport people to different community events and to conduct surveys at mental health facilities throughout Montgomery County. Through our community involvement, we make Montgomery County a better place to live.
We are asking for any donations that might help us to secure another van and assist with our current dilemma. We have some fundraisers planned, but anything that can help, such as individual donations are welcome. Through your donation you would be helping us continue to make Montgomery County a better place to live. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
By: Melanie Hewlett.
Suicide Prevention at the Commissioner’s Meeting
On Thursday, September 12, 2013, I attended the Montgomery County Commissioners meeting to support the county’s efforts to educate the public about suicide prevention during National Suicide Prevention Week. After a moment of silence to remember those who had lost their lives, we heard from various members of the Montgomery County Suicide Prevention Task Force who have been spearheading an effort to “stop the silence” that surrounds suicide. Because of the stigma surrounding suicide, many people do not get the help they need.
The Task Force, whose members include the Montgomery County Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities, Montgomery County Emergency Services and NAMI-Montgomery County, came together to share information, resourses and initiatives to help in suicide prevention. The suicide rate in Montgomery County has increased 83.9% from 2005 to 2011. Suicide is second leading cause of death in 25-34 year olds and third leading cause of death in 10-24 year olds.
Nancy Wieman, Deputy Administrator of the county’s Department of BH/DD, introduced a new website called Montcocares which was created by the organizations on the task force. Wieman, who is the chair of the task force, said the website was designed to be a resource center on suicide prevention and features information, facts and resources on suicide and what needs to be known after an attempt. It is also a resource for organizations related to suicide awareness and prevention.
Wieman said the task force wants everyone to know that Montgomery County does care when it comes to suicide prevention.
Community Advocates of Montgomery County and Hopeworx Inc. applaud the efforts of the Task Force to bring this important cause into the public eye as a Proclamation by the county commissioners, through the creation of the Montcocares website and the distribution of the Suicide Prevention Took Kits. The pocket-size tool kits are distributed to individuals and organizations who may come in contact with people contemplating suicide. It provides information for indentifying possible suicide risk, determining if an individual may be at risk, and intervening to safely help the individual. It is meant to complement a more comprehensive training on crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
I encourage you to visit Montcocares at www.montcocares.org and learn more about how you can help stop the silence and stigma of suicide.
Kathie Mitchell, Director of Community Advocates
Spring is in the air and the good folks of Norristown have created two lovely and bountiful community gardens. One garden at Bartasch Park behind Hancock school, and the other on the Norristown State Hospital Grounds.
One of the main goal of the Norristown Community Gardens is to cultivate a healthy community in which each member can share their value and produce with others around them.
On the Norristown State Hospital grounds there is over 20 plots, which include HopeWorx, the Boy Scout Troop 724 and the Calvary Baptist, as well as many other people who have individual plots.
Some of the plant we have planted are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, squash, beans, cabbage, flowers, and herds. We tend to the garden on a weekly basis and the fruits of the labor will be reaped by participants in the community gardens program. If you wish to participate, please speak to Ameika Malcolm (610-270-9155). We at HopeWorx are all looking forward to harvesting these plants.
Check out the photos from our second Open Mic Night! We’d especially like to thank all of our donors, including the Montgomery County CSP Committee, Giant Supermarket and ShopRite Supermarket.
You can see a video of our first place winner, Amy, here:
My name is Sandy Watson and I am the Director of HopeWorx, Inc. It is so exciting to introduce visitors to our new website, which includes and is not limited to the Consumer Satisfaction Team, Community Advocates and the HopeMarket Community Trading Post.
We started out in 1994 as the Consumer Satisfaction Team of Montgomery County. We added the “Inc.” to our name in 1995. The ever present enthusiasm and creativity of our staff led to the development of a parent company called HopeWorx, Inc. in 2010.
Please take the time to enjoy exploring our peer employment/development successes and keep an eye or two open for our yet to be established blog. We will probably start with “Dog Days at Work” featuring “Jazz & Sophie.” Yes, they can blog, we are a very special place.