Monday, October 11, 1999

Program helps mentally ill work

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        About this time last year, Margaret Hall began what she now calls the most successful job she's ever had.

        For more than 10 years, Ms. Hall had been in and out of hospitals seeking treatment for bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive disorder, a condition characterized by severe mood fluctuations. She also worked a number of unsuccessful jobs, including a stint as a pizza delivery driver.

        Ms. Hall now works as a nursing assistant, thanks to a work-training program for people with mental illness called Pathways. The program is offered through Highland Unlimited Business Enterprises (HUBE), the vocational rehabilitation branch of Hamilton County mental health agency CRI.

        Statistics show that employees like Ms. Hall, who have been trained and placed through HUBE programs, will stay on the job for a long time. About 68 percent of them will remain on the job for a year or longer.

        That rate is outstanding, said Debbie Dutton-Lambert, director of CRI's vocational, employment and retention services.


        Mrs. Dutton-Lambert has created a way for area companies who have problems retaining their employees to capitalize on HUBE's ability to produce dependable, capable workers like Ms. Hall.

        Last month, Ms. Dutton-Lambert helped launch a program called Employer Solutions, which offers consulting services to employers who experience problems with employee turnover. Her mis sion is two-pronged: Employer Solutions will generate revenue to fund programs like the one that put Ms. Hall back to work. It also will be an opportunity for employers to tap into the work force that HUBE offers.

        Ms. Hall, 42, a Westwood resident, works as a state tested nursing assistant at Mercy Franciscan at West Park, a retirement community that is a part of Mercy Health Partners.

        She assists 18 residents on the third floor by giving them showers, changing beds and helping out at meal times, among other duties. She does a good job and hasn't missed a day of work since she was hired, said her boss, Karen Renbarger, director of nursing for residential care.

        Employees like Ms. Hall can be great assets to companies, by lowering their turnover rate and lowering their operating costs. But when Ms. Hall turned to CRI in 1995, she said she was hopeless.

        “I realized I had a disability and needed some help,” she said.

        Through the Pathways program, she learned people skills, pinpointed her career interests and attended classes at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. When she was ready, she was paired with a CRI job coach who helped her get a job.

        For her first three months on the job, her job coach worked with her at her job site, training her to do the work she would soon be expected to complete on her own. Now, her coach, Sandy Shemo, meets with her twice a month to keep her motivated and offer her support and praise.

        “Margaret has come a long way,” Ms. Shemo said. “She doesn't doubt herself nearly as much anymore.”

        Mrs. Dutton-Lambert wants to continue to provide employers like Ms. Renbarger with workers like Ms. Hall. She thinks that Employer Solutions is one way to do that.

        “I created the Employer Solutions product lines in response to what I saw was an emerging problem of local employers to find the right people and keep the right people on the job,” she said.

        Mrs. Dutton-Lambert created four of the six Employer Solutions product lines: Employee Retention consulting service, Pre-Employment Screening, Turnover Cost Assessment and Job Analysis. The programs are being launched in conjunction with Gateway, a network of 11 behavioral health care organizations, of which CRI is a member.

        Gateway already had offered two of the Employer Solutions programs: a program called Drug-Free Workplace, which helps organizations identify and rehabilitate employees who may be prone to substance abuse, and Employee Assistance Program, which help identify and treat employees with substance abuse or emotional problems.

        Ms. Dutton-Lambert hopes that in addition to providing revenue for the center, Employer Solutions will provide an opportunity to encourage employers to tap into CRI's work force.

        In Hamilton County, there are about 5,400 severely emotionally disabled people. Of them, only about 10 percent are employed, Mrs. Dutton-Lambert said. Nationwide, about 8.2 million people have a severe mental or emotional disorder, and about 43 percent of them are employed, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Mental Health Services.

        Ms. Dutton-Lambert hopes to change that statistic one person at a time and looks to the progress of HUBE programs to motivate her. When Ms. Dutton-Lambert began her work at CRI 14 years ago, HUBE served no more than 15 clients with a staff of seven or eight. In 1998, HUBE, with its staff of more than 40, served more than 650 clients.

        The services offered through HUBE have become so many that CRI opened a satellite office Sept. 22 at 2330 Victory Parkway. The new center will serve mainly as a corporate office for Employer Solutions.

        But Ms. Dutton-Lambert said the success stories are her greatest inspiration.

        “What keeps me going are clients who come back to see me who are working in the community on their own,” she said.

        One of them is Margaret Hall. Ms. Hall plans to stay at Mercy Franciscan at West Park for a long time — at least until she builds enough confidence to go back to college to study psychology. She credits the programs at CRI for making her more financially independent and for pointing her in the right direction when she “feels like running away.”

        “Working has helped me start to believe in myself,” she said.

Services offered through Employer Solutions

Kroger contract settled
Brokerages expand online hours
Answer to tax queries: It depends
- Program helps mentally ill work
Golf class grooms students
Ky.'s tax system needs work - but how much?