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Community Healing Centers

Playing well with others to meet community needs
Executive Director Sally Reames has been at the helm of the Community Healing Centers since 2004.

It’s difficult to make a five-minute elevator pitch about the work of Community Healing Centers. When CHC Executive Director Sally Reames is asked what the organization does, she replies, only partly tongue-in-cheek, “Well, what do you need?”

CHC provides a variety of treatment, counseling and educational programs related to addiction, abuse and mental and behavioral disorders, but it has a history of adding new services as needs are discovered. “A little bit of what defines us is that we’re always kind of changing and growing,” Reames says. “We are really about learning and feel there’s a strength in bringing things together or looking at things from a new direction.”

CHC was formed in 2004 through a merger of Michiana Addiction and Preventions Services (MAPS) and the Kalamazoo-based Guidance Clinic, which provided psychological counseling for children. At the time, Reames was executive director of MAPS, which had several treatment centers in the region, including what is now the Gilmore Community Healing Center near Borgess Medical Center.

The former Guidance Clinic building on Stadium Drive became CHC headquarters. This facility, now named the Elizabeth Upjohn Community Healing Center, is also where most of CHC’s family and children services are based. Set in a wooded area, it provides a soothing environment for counseling sessions and outpatient treatments.

CHC now serves more than 4,500 people a year throughout Southwest Michigan. In addition to its two Kalamazoo locations, CHC has centers in Niles and Sturgis that provide outpatient addiction treatment for adults and families, and a home in Sturgis for women in the early stages of recovery. “Hope House (in Sturgis) is a great place for women who are needing a fresh start and a chance to get their feet on the ground,” Reames says. “Sometimes they’re coming out of abusive relationships or dangerous relationships, and in order to keep their kids or get their kids back they need a safe place to live.”

Addiction treatment is “a signature program” of CHC, according to Reames. The Gilmore Community Healing Center is the only medically-monitored detoxification and residential treatment center in the region. CHC also provides various forms of outpatient addiction treatment and therapy and helps families and friends with the intervention process.

Services for children and families include early intervention for infant mental health, individual therapy for children and adolescents, and marital and family therapy. CHC’s Children’s Advocacy Center provides ongoing treatment for children who have been sexually abused.

A growing need

The need for these CHC programs seems to be increasing. The rate of confirmed victims of abuse and neglect ages 0 to 17 increased by 56 percent in Kalamazoo County from 2005 to 2011, according to last January’s Kids Count in Michigan report produced by the Michigan League for Public Policy and Michigan’s Children. Reames says that while this increase might partially be due to improvements in reporting
and identifying abuse and neglect, “It doesn’t take away the fact that it is happening at astounding rates.”

In Kalamazoo County 31 out of 1,000 children in 2011 were victims; only eight other counties had a higher rate of abuse and neglect. Reames says young children are particularly in jeopardy. “Thirty-two percent of that (abuse) happens to children the age of 4 and under.”

Economic stress is a large factor in child well-being, and abuse and neglect are also often linked to drug abuse. “At one time not too long ago, 40 percent of the kids in foster care were there because of methamphetamines being used in their home,” Reames says.

There also has been a rise in heroin use in the region, Reames says. “Over half of the people we’re seeing right now in detox are coming in with heroin addiction,” she says. “It’s a whole new ‘generation’ of heroin users. They are generally now Caucasian middle-class young adults who may have started out (using) opiates or painkillers.”

Overdoses, both fatal and nonfatal, are also on the rise, Reames says. “If this was any other kind of disease happening at this level, it would be declared an epidemic by the public health department ... but it’s a difficult one to talk about because there’s so much stigma attached.”

An integrated approach

Reames says CHC’s treatment programs are governed less by “the old-school medical model” than by “the new integrated behavioral health services approach.”

“There certainly is no surplus of psychiatrists in the greater Kalamazoo area,” she says, “so a lot of work is done with psychologists and licensed social workers and professional counselors with consultant help from psychiatrists.”

CHC’s methods are family-centered and outreach-oriented. “Whether it be on substance-use disorder or the challenges of adolescence or a whole range of things, (we are) understanding now that it is not just the person with the symptoms or the particular diagnosis, but the whole family system (that) gets touched,” says Reames.

Consequently, CHC specializes in “(taking) our work to where the person is or the family is.” It has recognized a host of advantages to treating people in their homes, including easier access for individuals who have difficulty finding transportation.

On-site services have been especially effective in the infant mental health program, which involves therapists visiting the homes of families with infants who are at risk for various developmental delays and emotional disorders. Reames says that by making home visits, therapists are “in on the ground level. You can learn so much more about what’s happening in the environment if you’re actually there. What kind of things is this parent up against? What is the neighborhood like? What are her natural supports? What are the challenges? What other children are there in the family?”

Recognizing how critical early intervention with infants and parents is to children’s development, CHC has put a lot into developing infant mental health services over the past year,, doubling its caseload, Reames says. “There’s more and more evidence that the more we do, the earlier we do it, the better everybody’s chances are,” she says.

CHC has a history of working with other organizations to meet the community’s needs, and infant mental health is a prime example. Partners in early intervention include Bronson and Borgess hospitals, Kalamazoo Community Mental Health, the Kalamazoo County Family Court, the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Services Agency (KRESA) and the Michigan Department of Human Services. CHC also works with the Kalamazoo Literacy Council and Loaves & Fishes to provide families with additional support in the form of food packets and free books.

Because of this remarkable example of cooperation, “we got all of our therapists pastel-colored long-sleeve T-shirts that say, ‘We play well with others,’” Reames says.

“We are not at all territorial about our work,” she adds. ”There’s plenty to be done, and the more partners we can have, the stronger we think the services become.”

The agency works closely with law enforcement officials and the judicial system. The Elizabeth Upjohn Community Healing Center is a forensic interview center for children who have been sexually or physically abused. It also hosts court-mandated supervised visits for parents whose children have been put in foster care.

CHC also has a close relationship with Kalamazoo County’s drug-treatment court and sobriety court, which place people who have committed substance abuse related nonviolent offenses in addiction treatment programs.

Managing and funding the work

Reames has worked in nonprofit administration for her entire career and has been with CHC and its predecessor organizations for more than 20 years. She says that “(good) business practices don’t come naturally to nonprofit management, but they’re essential.”

CHC is accredited by a variety of national organizations, and Reames says the accountability this requires is part of what makes CHC successful.

The agency has a $5 million annual budget and relies on diverse sources to for funding including Medicaid and insurance payments, Kalamazoo Community Mental Health, HUD, the United Way, local foundations and private donations. “That is in part by design, because if one goes away or dries up, we don’t fold. We’re not entirely dependent on one source,” Reames says. “We’re trying to be financially nimble.“

Being nimble and adaptable is certainly something CHC does well. The organization was asked recently to sponsor the production of Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning Next to Normal at Farmers Alley Theatre. Reames, at first uncertain about the idea, says now, “it was a perfect fit for us because it was about family, it was about bipolar disorder, it was about drug use and adolescence and treatment and all that stuff that we’re doing, and it brought the conversation out, and people are still talking about it.

“You find partnerships in the most unusual places.”

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“If this was any other kind of disease happening at this level, it would be declared an epidemic by the public health department ... but it’s a difficult one to talk about because there’s so much stigma attached.”