Customer Services Update 2012/2013

It’s December 26, 2012, and as New Years approaches many people are reflecting on the past year and planning for the new. As I reflect on how things have changed since Gratia first wrote this piece for Customer Services, then my update, I again realize it’s time to update again.

Yes, Customer Services is still here. And like most things in life, there are changes.

In 2011, Customer Services was involved in bringing the national art exhibit, “The Lives They Left Behind..Suitcases From A State Hospital” to Lenawee. This exhibit really brought attention to the stigma persons with mental illness lived with then and still now.

We now use the Recovery Oriented System of Care (ROSC) in providing substance abuse services. In fact, we are working very hard to integrate all health related services for our consumers. We know that treating the whole person is the best treatment option.

I’m sure there are many changes still to come, and Customer Services will be here to help you through the maze. Remember you can always contact Customer Services with any question you have, if we don’t know the answer, we will find it for you.

Happy healthy and safe 2013 to you!
Kay Ross, Customer Service Representative

Prevention Services at Lenawee Community Mental Health Authority
Written by: Gratia L. Karmes, Community Services Manager

July 2009

Gratia has been gone from LCMHA for 3 years but this article written by her was still being used to define Customer Services. As I sat trying to type a more current article, my mind kept coming back to how wonderful and current this article is. It really does describe what we do here in the Customer Services land of CMH. Times keep getting tougher as more families are affected by the downturn of our economy. Michigan has been hard hit, and Lenawee is no exception. We have to do so much more with fewer resources. We all need to help one another so our community can prosper again, thus we continue to work together for the betterment of everyone.

My thought is “how do you mess with perfection?” You don’t. You are still going to see the article that Gratia wrote with just a few minor changes. It’s like “keeping up with the times” with Gratia.
Kay Ross, Customer Service Representative

There is an old adage that goes:

A kind-hearted person walking by a river notices someone floundering in the water. Being kind-hearted, she reaches in and pulls them out. Soon after, someone else comes floating by, and then another, and another. The kind-hearted gal works mighty hard, but she can not keep up with the oncoming desperate people. Even though she is eventually joined by many other kind-hearted people who also begin pulling people out of the water, they are overwhelmed.

Finally someone says, “Let’s send someone up the river, and see what’s going on, are they jumping? Being pushed? Just falling in? Let’s go see if we can keep them out of the river in the first place.”

And that, in a nutshell, is prevention.

There really is a river of despair. We at LCMHA are very good at helping people out of that river. Our “Community Outreach and Prevention Services Unit” is a big part of the scouting party sent periodically up that river, to see if we can keep folks on dry land, so to speak. It is a pretty complex effort, which involves: (and here I am going to stretch the river metaphor unmercifully…)

Community Outreach: At the very least, we want people to know, if they do find themselves in the river of despair, there is a dock over here at LCMHA. We are the ones who keep that dock well-lit and identified. That is why you sometimes see billboards, ads in the newspaper, radio spots and other attempts to make our presence known.

Targeted Services: We know that some people are more likely than others to fall into the river. The technical term is “At-Risk”…so we work with (for example) families of children with Fetal Alcohol Effects, youth who are failing in schools, people who are anxious or depressed, to help them develop certain skills…you could say, to learn to swim.

Community Benefit: Sad to say, some of the folks in the river are not, well, eligible for landing at our dock. That is just the way it is. We are primarily funded by Medicaid, and they who built our dock (the Federal Government) want their money to go to a very specific population. Our unit is involved in making sure, at the very least, ineligible people are directed to OTHER docks, or maybe helped to support each other, or given some other types of help as they float by. Often we may be involved in helping the community create services and programs that will be of help to those we cannot serve.

Collaboration: We aren’t the only ones with the big hearts. Lots of other human service people are on their own docks, pulling their own clientele to safety whenever they can. Our unit strives to build the network between all these helpers, so they aren’t getting in each other’s way, and are more effective.

Education: We are the ones putting up the warning signs, “Watch out…there’s a river of despair over here!!” Only, the signs actually say things like, “When you drink, your baby drinks, too.” Or “These are the indicators of childhood depression” . Or “Please prevent child head injuries by buckling your child into the car seat correctly”.

Needs Assessment: You could say that we are the ones conveying the message, “Hey, this river needs a fence by it.” Not just because we say so, but because the community has made it known this is a need. Every year, we conduct surveys, focus groups, and other activities to find out what people are concerned about at the time.

Quality Improvement: Newer and presumably better ways of rescuing people are being developed all the time. We are responsible for finding out about these resources, and also for fixing whatever is broken in the current system.

Strategic Planning: Maybe a “brigade” approach is called for. Maybe a lifeboat, maybe those little floaty rings…we are responsible for bringing together those who might have ideas about how to go about this rescuing business, and getting their ideas implemented where possible. Most importantly, we are responsible (picture us asking people as they float along, “what would you like to have happen next?) for getting the input of those in need.

And here we see the biggest pitfall of this allegory. The “victim/rescuer” model is SO over. What we know now is that “them is us”. We are all in that river of despair at various times, and to various degrees. We all have times when we need help, and when we have help to offer. Our Customer Service Unit is very much a part of the Anti-stigma Campaign. People can and do climb out of that river, and when they do, they are the most effective ones to help others.

“Customer Services” involves all of the activities mentioned above, and more. At LCMHA we believe every employee is a Customer Service representative; we all have responsibility to make our agency a welcoming and helpful place. Those of us who are called, more formally, “Customer Service Representatives” understand that a customer at any given time may be a consumer, another staff person, a community member, or someone from another agency. In any case, it is our job to answer questions, provide materials, help navigate, and hear complaints.

Trudi Grossman, Sharon Smith, Kay Ross, and Kathryn Szewczuk make up the Community Outreach and Prevention Services unit at Lenawee Community Mental Health Authority . If you would like more information about our services, or LCMHA in general, please call us at 517-263-8905.