GROWTH THROUGH THE YEARS

 

Pat Risser was one of the students in the first Consumer Case Manager Aide program in Colorado.  He didn¹t remain a CCMA but went on to work as a professional Intensive Case Manager and as a therapist on a locked acute inpatient unit.  However, because he had gone through that initial training, he was given the opportunity to travel with those who created and presented the training at conferences. 

 

Pat traveled the conference circuit for several years.  As a result, he got to make friends and know people from all over the country.  Many people were impressed by the CCMA program and using information gathered at conferences (and sometimes purchased from RATC) they would try to replicate the program in their own community.  By returning to the same conferences year after year, Pat got to hear how things had worked out as others set up their own training programs. 

 

In Arizona, they set up a two-year program with the Community College and in Alaska, they went so far as to set up both a two-year and a four-year program.  Unfortunately, these programs did not succeed.  One of the research results was that ³fast-track² education is successful because by the time people who have had mental health issues are ready to consider education, training and possible paid or volunteer opportunities, they have often waited a long time and are anxious to get started.  Therefore, many lack the patience to take the usual longer route through 2 – 4 or more years of schooling.  The original CCMA program also proved, by its success, that people with mental health issues are able to absorb and learn information presented in a ³fast-track² format, something that was previously thought to be unlikely.

 

Pat paid attention to what worked and what didn¹t as others tried to create similar programs.  A few years later when Pat was hired in California, he was able to put what he had learned into action.

 

In 1990, Pat was hired to be Director of Mental Health Consumer Concerns, Inc. (MHCC), the second oldest continuously operating consumer/survivor organization in the country.  Part of the reason for hiring Pat was that MHCC wanted to replicate the success of the CCMA program.  MHCC provided legal representation to clients in civil commitment and involuntary medication hearings.  They also investigated patient complaints about residential facilities (Board and Care homes, etc.). Pat also directed the self-help, peer support network.

 

Pat worked with Jay Mahler and others in Contra Costa County California to try and get a state ³systems improvement² grant.  Unfortunately, they didn¹t get that grant but their efforts weren¹t in vain.  In the process of creating the grant application, Pat and Jay did a lot of outreach and created successful coalitions with consumers/survivors, family members and providers.  Following the unsuccessful bid for the state grant, these coalitions felt that the idea of consumers as providers still had merit and decided to pursue other means of supporting the project.  Using the ³clout² they had as a coalition of various interested parties, they managed to get the county mental health department to agree to fund the first training.  In addition, there were some small amounts from Kaiser, Vocational Rehabilitation, United Way and other sources to help support the project.

 

Pat worked with others to update and revise the curriculum to reflect the knowledge he had gained over the years.  In addition, the curriculum had to be updated to reflect current knowledge and trends in mental health.  Pat also knew he¹d be unable to withstand the rigor of trying to teach the class by himself.  He¹d had three heart attacks by this time.  In order to relieve some of the teaching burden and to assure that the students would be exposed to more diverse perspectives, Pat chose two others to help him facilitate the classroom training.

 

It was important that the training be ³consumer/survivor² operated.  Pat therefore chose Mary Carley to help carry that load.  She is a wonderful ³earth-mother² type who was very supportive of the students and who helped them as issues would arise in the classroom.  Pat also chose Candace Fox.  Candace is a mental health professional who spent most of her time working in ³crisis² services.  She also had experience as a trainer and was the primary facilitator of various family member trainings in the county.  Candace was also one of the more progressive minded providers in the county and she would ³balance² the information presented by Pat without being offended or ³pushing² the medical model onto the students.

 

From mid-March to the end of April in 1994, the first ³consumer/survivor operated² training was conducted.  The six-week training was so successful that the county immediately wanted more trainings to follow.  Pat worked though the summer with various groups in the coalition to create a ten-week training that would be even more thorough. 

 

The second O.F.F.I.C.E. (Office For Family Involvement and Consumer Empowerment) training commenced in October.  Two weeks into the training, on October 13, 1994, Pat had his fourth heart attack.  Fortunately for the class, Mary Carley and Candace Fox had already done one training with Pat and they were able to pick up the slack and keep the training on schedule.  Pat returned to the class but in order to ease his burden, he began cutting back on the various other activities such as outreach to the community.  The rest of the folks at MHCC also carried an increased load to help things along.  Karen D¹Antonio who had been the original state grant coordinator carried much of the burden for keeping the coalitions together and focused.  Barbara Lyon (MHCC¹s co-coordinator) worked extra to assure that the funding would continue.  Jay Mahler worked on job placement and job development to assure that the students would have opportunities when the class graduated.  The trainings were a truly a team effort.

 

Jay cultivated relationships in Solano County and eventually, OFFICE training was done there also.  The program grew and its success lead directly to a major conference in the San Francisco Bay area called ³Jobs Now.²  All of the local mental health directors wanted to jump on the bandwagon.  This was quite a testament to the success of the program.  Further trainings were done in Contra Costa County but the curriculum pretty much remained the same.  It was settled that eight-weeks, not six or ten, was the ideal length of the full training.  Contra Costa tinkered with the program a bit after Pat left and tried to create a program that only met two or three times a week for a longer period of time but that program was never quite as successful in terms of being able to help people find satisfaction in the paid or volunteer position of their choice (or go back to school for more education).