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JCHE partners with Jewish Family &Children’s Service on a multi-year mental health initiative

Posted: March 16, 2012

JCHE has a strong commitment to create and sustain communities that are caring and supportive. We highly value staff training so that our staff has the skills they need to best assist our residents.

It is estimated that 26.2% of American adults suffer from a mental disorder at some point in their lives, and JCHE’s population mirrors this percentage. Assisting a resident who is agitated, paranoid or severely depressed requires a trained and compassionate staff. When our primary direct service staff – our resident service coordinators (RSC)  -- expressed a need for more skill development, JCHE developed a strategy. We successfully sought funding from Combined Jewish Philanthropies – Boston Jewish Community Women’s Fund (BJCWF) to develop and implement a multi-year, comprehensive training program. The grant enabled us to work with Jewish Family & Children’s Service so that their excellent Clinical Director of Senior Services, Marsha Frankel MSW LICSW, could share her extensive knowledge and oversee the initiative.

The training focused on real situations (discussed anonymously to respect confidentially) and offered very practical strategies. In addition to the RSC staff, the training was offered to all departments that work closely with residents, including maintenance, kitchen staff and accounting. In the second year of the initiative, we extended the training to staff of partner agencies so that the case managers and homemakers who assist our residents could also hone their skills.

The impact of the training sessions far exceeded our expectations. Participants were able to build their skills with tips, techniques and suggested language for a variety of situations.  The training offered much more than the tools. It also reinforced a format of teamwork with staff of various departments sitting down together to strategize solutions and ease residents’ burdens.

And then we went even further. The goal of BJCWF is to fund projects with the widest reach possible. It became clear that we had invaluable information to offer to senior housing staff everywhere. As the final phase of the grant, a guide was created. In addition to Marsha, its authors included JCHE staff: Caren Silverlieb, MMHS, Director of Strategic Planning and Partnerships; Gaye Freed, MSW, LICSW, Executive Director of the Brighton campus; and Laura Isenberg, MSW, LICSW, Resident Services Administrator.

According to Caren, this initiative has been critically important. “We need to approach mental illness the way we handle any serious physical illness: with compassion and support.  We now have a greater skill set for working with the complexity of these situations. Our work through the initiative impacts not only those wrestling with mental illness, but also their families, our staff and others who are part of the JCHE community. 

The guide is now available – at no charge – directly from JCHE’s website at Caren, Gaye and Marsha will be presenting the guide and the training experience at the 2012 American Society on Aging/National Council on Aging conference in Washington D.C.

It is very satisfying to address tough situations – and even more satisfying when it results in information that can continue to improve lives well beyond the last training session.



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