Story by Elissa Bass

 

From its 19th-century beginning, the Institute of Living has lead the way in the moral treatment of people suffering with mental illness, with the latest interpretation of its founding concepts getting a 21st-century spin.

Dubbed “Radical Recovery,” the IOL’s vision for the future is anchored on the principles of integration, liberation and innovation. The work of turning concepts into practice began last fall when leadership engaged with internal and external stakeholders, community organizations and city civic leaders, through a Radical Recovery Summit.

Future opportunities include expanding the IOL model of care beyond biomedical interventions to a more integrative, holistic, evidence-based approach. The team also hopes to reduce fragmentation and enhance engagement with families, caregivers and community to enhance staff well-being.

“We have a unique opportunity to be part of shaping the future. Our vision is to be a beacon for other similar organizations in the country and the world,” says Javeed Sukhera, MD, PhD, IOL chair of psychiatry and chief of the Hartford Hospital Department of Psychiatry.

“The idea is that we can move forward to reimagine mental healthcare in a way that’s far less coercive, much more community centered,” he says. “Radical recovery really is about helping people heal before they get into crisis. It’s about healers and sufferers acknowledging their vulnerability together and co-creating spaces of healing.”

Radical Recovery: Key Visions

  • Co-designing care with those who have lived and living experience
  • Enhancing choice while reducing coercive practices, which force people to receive care
  • Embracing the healing power of community

Radical Recovery, he adds, is an outgrowth of the IOL’s founding beliefs.

“Still today, there is coercive care in mental health,” he says. “We recognize a lot of psychiatric care is still coercive and we want to do a better job of increasing choice.”

Since the fall summit, the IOL team implemented a process around policy creation and renewal so Dr. Sukhera says, “Any time a policy is up for renewal, we actively look for input from everyone involved. Patients, families, everyone, not just the decision-makers. We are bringing the patient/ family voice into the way we do things.”

An audit of patient/human rights in treatment has also begun, with a team using World Health Organization parameters to create a tool to help ensure rights are respected.

“This will hold up a mirror and show us the ways we can improve care and how we can be better,” Dr. Sukhera explains.

Because “change is not easy,” a “dialogue group” meets monthly to “grapple with the human side of making change,” he continues. This group, which includes all levels and types of staff, has honest conversations about their work and work environment.

“Complexity is what you make of it,” Dr. Sukhera says. “What we know is the person who is suffering needs us to do this now. We are not too daunted by how big it might feel. We’re not afraid of being bold and really reshaping the way we do things knowing this should have happened a long time ago.”


Changing the Face of Behavioral Healthcare

Story by Elissa Bass

Whether it’s improvements in technol­ogy or conclusions drawn from years of research, methods, approaches and mindsets change when it comes to treating both body and mind.

From the beginning, Hartford HealthCare’s Be­havioral Health Network has led the evolution in the treatment of mental illness and substance use disorders. From hosting a food pantry at Natchaug Hospital to providing sup­portive housing at Rush­ ford, and from staging a dance group at Westport’s inpatient facility to state­ of-the-art therapies and accommodations at The Ridge, BHN colleagues are always looking for ways to help.

It can be as simple as providing free transpor­ tation to programs or as complex as tackling hous­ing and food insecurity, economic instability and lack of access to quality healthcare. Problems and barriers are no match for the ingenuity and passion of these colleagues.


Healing the Emotional Wounds of Racial Trauma

Story by Elissa Bass

Discrimination does more than bar people from jobs, housing or education; it can have deep and long-lasting impact on mental health, something the Institute of Living team hopes to address with its new Center for Research in Racial Trauma and Community Healing.

“The IOL has been an important thought leader in research and scientific discussion. We felt our bicentennial was a good time to engage even more with the communities around us,” says Javeed Sukhera, MD, PhD, chair of psychiatry at the IOL and chief of the Hartford Hospital Department of Psychiatry.

He is also founding director of the new Center, which opened in April.

“With everything we continue to endure, we wanted to prioritize the topics of racial trauma and community healing. Now more than ever, it is important to understand the psychological, physical and behavioral consequences of discrimination and how we can foster healing,” Dr. Sukhera says.

The subject is close to his heart and he testified last year before Canada’s Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights about anti-Muslim prejudice and the impact it can have on the mental health of children and young people.

Projects underway:

  • Partnership with the Hartford Community Foundation to launch a culturally affirming parent support group for Black and African American parents.
  • Collaboration with UConn Health to study mistrust and discrimination in reproductive care.
  • Work with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on using artificial intelligence to analyze stigmatizing and biased language in electronic health records.

“Part of what sensitizes me to this personally is having witnessed and lived experiences of identity-based violence,” he says. “Whichever group is experiencing it, the pain of being targeted is a shared human experience.”

In the past, Dr. Sukhera acknowledges “psychiatry has played a role in perpetuating racial trauma.” The new Center will “bring outside communities into our work and we will invest our knowledge back into the communities.”


Herb Boyd Put His Addiction Behind Him and Now Helps Others Find Their Roadmap to Recovery

Story by Elissa Bass

Herb Boyd, right, toured The Ridge before it was even renovated, and told Dr. James O’Dea, left, that he’d love to work there — now he does.

Herb Boyd knows what it’s like to be alone in addiction.

A member of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, the 67-year-old was banished from the reservation for six years because of his struggles with alcohol and drugs and time in prison. It wasn’t until he went into recovery that he was allowed to come back.

A recovery support specialist (RSS) at The Ridge, Boyd serves as vice chair of the tribe’s Elders Council, the same body that ejected him years ago. He feels like serving in the elected position shows how full circle he has truly come. He’s also a commissioner on the tribal court for the tribe’s pre-trial intervention program.

“When I was in recovery, when I was in treatment, I asked to be reinstated,” he recalls. “They lifted the banishment, and I started working for the tribe. People started asking me how I did it, how I got sober and I would share my story. Then my mentor, an RSS, told me I should get trained. I haven’t looked back since.”

“When you come out of detox and that fog starts to clear, you just need someone to listen.”

Boyd became an RSS in 2019, working for the tribe’s health department and local New London County agencies as a recovery coach before coming to Hartford HealthCare in 2023 after Mashantucket Medical Director Setu Vora, MD, invited him on a tour of The Ridge.

“We walked The Ridge with James O’Dea (senior vice president, Behavioral Health Network) and, afterwards, I said to him, ‘I would like to work here.’ I just felt like this is my place. The chance to be part of something right out of the gate, from the beginning, I knew I wanted to be part of that,” he says.

Boyd’s personal story hits home with many.

“If I can now be vice chair of the body that banned me, the sky’s the limit,” he says. “You have to really want recovery every day. Once you make that change, you can do anything.”

He cut the ribbon at the official ceremony opening The Ridge, surrounded by HHC executives, elected officials and the media.

“I’m thinking, there are all these big shots here — why me?” he laughs. “I was so honored to do that. And 20 or 30 years from now, when I’m long gone, that picture of me cutting that ribbon will last forever. It’s very humbling.”

Boyd works weekends at The Ridge, helping facilitate groups, participating in activities and spending one-on-one time with clients, sitting in a lounge or walking one of the trails on the 60-acre property. He shares his story but also listens. Just listens.

“I am that ear,” he explains. “The opposite of addiction is connection and I want to be as comforting and engaging as I can be. When you come out of detox and that fog starts to clear, you just need someone to listen.”


Starting off right at The Ridge

Team Applies Care Principles to Themselves, As Well

Story by Elissa Bass

 

Trauma-informed care is a respected approach to helping people with substance use disorder, employed by Behavioral Health Network providers every day.

Last fall, when 85 staff members at the The Ridge gathered to begin training and working at the BHN’s newest, most state-of-the-art substance use treatment facility, they applied the method-ology to themselves as well.

“I felt it was important to reflect our approaches with clients within our work culture,” explains Clinical Director Lauren Galarneau. “If we are informing clients of self-care and humanistic approaches, we need to do the same with our colleagues. In the development of a positive workplace, I knew it would have a trickle-down effect — if staff feel valued, our clients feel valued.”

Angie Palamara, lead clinician, worked at Rushford in Middletown before making the move to The Ridge in Windham.

“Trauma-informed care is how I want my team to be managed,” she says. “As healthcare workers, we experience trauma. The ways we can create space for colleagues to be healthy and feel supported, create a culture of that, will lower burnout and increase support.”

Colleagues at The Ridge take care of patients and each other. Galarneau and Clinical Program Manager Lauren Mernick set that as a goal before they even began working together.

“We wanted to inject it into the workplace culture from Day One,” Mernick says. “This has all been really exciting because we have a brand-new building but we can also create the culture we want.”

When colleagues were being chosen, Galarneau adds, “The vision was clear on the environment we were creating for our patients and staff, as well as the expectation we had of no silos and team approach. Our multi-disciplinary team has an impact on each individual’s care, therefore each person is a valuable and important member of the team.”

Case manager Jess Morris, who has worked with substance use disorder clients for a decade, most recently out of a van, says the newness of The Ridge is great, but she also appreciates being heard.

“It’s the leadership and management that make it special. I never really felt heard (at other jobs). Here, we have a person-centered, inclusive, very responsive leadership,” she says.

She and Palamara are in recovery themselves, which Morris says can “(make) you feel minimized or less important. I have not felt that here.”

Jackie Kelsey, a recovery support specialist who also teaches yoga, says, “I have never felt this appreciated. I have never felt this valued. I drive an hour to get to work and this makes that drive worth it.”


Rushford Program Provides a Safe Place to Get a Little Help from Your Friends

Story by Elissa Bass

That’s the premise behind Rushford’s Friendship Club, which has operated for decades as part of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services programs, providing a safe and friendly place for people with “any mental health condition that seriously impairs their ability to lead meaningful lives.” There are 24 such clubs in Connecticut.

Lynnette Sparkman-McLaurin is Rushford’s program operations manager for housing, homeless outreach and social rehabilitation. She says the Friendship Club meets in Meriden Monday through Friday and offers a wide array of programming, from guest speakers to educational sessions to community field trips to hanging out and working on jigsaw puzzles.

“Sometimes you simply need someone to talk to — and someone who will listen.”

“It’s structured but also relaxed,” she says.

Participants are referred by Rushford clinicians or community partner organizations.

“It’s for anyone struggling with socialization,” Sparkman-McLaurin explains. Social rehabilitation counselors plan activities and work with participants. Often, they become an important liaison with individuals’ other healthcare providers.

The counselors are connected to each person’s case manager, clinician and prescriber,” she says. “There is a weekly integrated team meeting that includes everyone. The Friendship Club counselors typically see each person more often than anyone else. They can often identify when someone is struggling and club members may provide pertinent information the counselor can relay to respective care team members.”

There is no limit on how long a person can come to Friendship Club, and if they do decide to leave they can always come back, Sparkman-McLaurin says.