I had visited Fountain House on a number of occasions during my training as a psychiatrist in New York City and was familiar with the positive energy of the place. While I was a resident at Bellevue Hospital, I worked with people who attended Fountain House and who spoke very highly of the program. The main reason I eventually chose to model our program on Fountain House is that it empowers members to take on central roles in the running and direction of the programs, and consequently, they thrive in taking control over their lives.
I felt that having a clubhouse on the grounds of a State Psychiatric Hospital - where the systems in place don’t seem to engender a sense of hope, agency and self worth in the people we serve - would actually help transform the entire system of Rockland Psychiatric Center into a more Recovery oriented direction.
In late January, 2010, the locked program ceased to exist, and after a quick coat of paint on the walls, the Recovery Center opened. It was an interesting and deeply rewarding experience. The biggest challenge was moving staff and members of a locked program, modeled on day treatment, into a program with the doors wide open, where we requested that members decide what they wanted the program to become.
The members had a lot of ideas, and we were able to quickly group their ideas around 4 units: Employment, Administration, Community Access, and Wellness. I would say that the members had the easiest time making the transformation to the clubhouse and really led the charge. Some staff embraced the model from the first day; others were skeptical, but embraced the model once they saw the progression that people, some of whom they had worked with for many years, began to make as they became more involved in the Recovery Center. Other staff continued to struggle, or appeared disinterested in the model, and did not thrive in the new program.
In our first month, a group of members and staff visited Fountain House, our first of two visits in the first year of opening. At Fountain House, our members and staff worked side by side with Fountain House members in their employment and clerical units and in the horticulture program. After both visits, everyone came back to the Recovery Center with lots of ideas, many of which were implemented in our own program. Some of the highlights in our first year of opening include the following:
- Three members of the Recovery Center and a staff member attended a social security and benefits seminar, after which they designed a series of informational workshops that they offered to other members in the Recovery Center.
- Two members and the Center’s Director were featured on Health First, a TV show on Cable TV in Westchester County.
- Members taught other members how to read bus schedules and maps, and then take public transportation. Members proficient in using public transportation accompanied peers on trial runs of their desired bus path, until they felt comfortable taking busses on their own. One member reported afterwards, “I took my first bus ride in eight years, and I feel great.”
- A Recovery Center Choir was formed and has performed on inpatient units, at annual events, and in the community.
- A creative arts program was formed, modeled on the Creedmoor Living Museum. The RPC Living Museum now has shows throughout the year, and many artists have been featured in their own shows in galleries and libraries in the community.
- Members held the Center’s first open house during the summer of 2010. Politicians and the press were invited. A member who ran her own events planning company taught others how to make a balloon arch for the entrance, and members decorated the space with their own artwork. The choir performed songs, and members provided tours for guests from the community.
- One member, a certified public accountant, provided members an ongoing workshop on budgeting.
- Three months after opening, we created a Public Service Announcement where the members of the Recovery Center spoke about the impact of stigma on their lives. The PSA was written by members after workshops and discussions about they wanted to convey in the PSA and what they wanted to get out of the experience. The PSA was shown on cable TV stations in the counties where Rockland Psychiatric Center provides care. Check it out on YouTube!
The Recovery Center is now in its third year, and we are currently opening our 2nd clubhouse in Poughkeepsie. By the time this article goes to print, that group will have visited Fountain House, just as RPC’s clubhouse did three years earlier. There have certainly been challenges, most of which come from the funding and regulatory limitations of being connected to a state psychiatric center. However, the benefits and rewards of creating this program have greatly outweighed the frustrations and challenges. Many people have been able to attend the Recovery Center as inpatients, go out in the community, obtain jobs or school admission, and move on from the hospital setting. Members of the Recovery Center serve as models for other patients at RPC; they’re paid to run groups on recovery and to co-lead art groups in clinics and inpatient units. As a result, people who are inpatient see that the Recovery Center can help them achieve their goals, and more importantly, that there is hope and recovery.
Andrew Kirsch, MD