Smoothing the Bumps on the Road to Recovery
TWO LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS PROVIDE A FULL RANGE OF SERVICES TO PEOPLE WITH ADDICTION AND MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS.
BY TRAVIS MARSHALL / PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF CLARE|MATRIX AND DIDI HIRSCH MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
The Community Impact Fund (CIF) was established by Saint John’s Health Center Foundation to support our local
health care partners in improving the health of the community. Each year the CIF committee reviews applications
and makes grants to entities striving to improve the health of local residents. In this issue of Saint John’s, we are
proud to present the second in a series of stories on organizations that have received CIF grants. Our story highlights two impressive organizations that focus on mental health and substance abuse.
Erica Daza was eight months pregnant in the fall of 2018 when she found herself in a desperate situation. She had met her boyfriend a year earlier in an addiction recovery program—she was trying to overcome a 15-year struggle with methamphetamine and marijuana. They bonded over their shared sobriety. But together they relapsed … and then he became abusive. “I had to leave him, but then I was on the street, homeless and not getting the prenatal care I needed for my baby,” says Daza, a 37-yearold mother from South Los Angeles. “When I heard CLARE|MATRIX had a sober living program for pregnant women, it was life-changing. Now I’m six months clean, and my baby girl, Serenity, is healthy and happy.” As part of its Community Impact Fund grants for 2019, Saint John’s Health Center Foundation is providing support to nonprofit local organizations that assist people like Daza who might otherwise slip through gaps in the health care system. The CIF grant to CLARE MATRIX is helping continue and expand the successful Women and Children First initiative—a sober living program for pregnant and postpartum women from which Daza recently graduated.The grant to CLARE|MATRIX provides continued funding for integrated care efforts that help ensure people struggling with mental illness are connected to the full range of health and social services they need to stay healthy—from regular medical visits to housing assistance.
Support for mothers and children
“Breaking the cycle of addiction is hard for anyone, but it’s even harder for pregnant women and mothers with children,” explains Lisa Steele, Ph.D., chief executive officer at CLARE|MATRIX. “Often they’re afraid they’ll lose their children or have to leave them behind, and understandably they’ll choose their children over their own health.” CLARE|MATRIX was recently established through the merger of two long-running addiction treatment organizations: the CLARE Foundation and Matrix Institute on Addictions. “Historically CLARE was known as a residential rehabilitation provider for people without resources—the majority of our clients are homeless or at risk of homelessness,” Dr. Steele says. “Matrix has traditionally been known as an outpatient provider for people with insurance.” The $22 million nonprofits has 18 locations throughout Los Angeles. It receives funding primarily through government, corporate and foundation grants as well as private fundraising. “We launched the Women and Children First initiative in 2017 knowing that we need to focus on the whole family to break the cycle of addition,” Dr. Steele says. “In 2018 it was clear that we needed to expand the program to include sober living for these families when treatment ends.” Following the success of the six-month program for pregnant and postpartum women, CLARE|MATRIXis currently looking for a residential location to extend sober living opportunities to women like Daza. The 2019 funding from the CIF grant and other sources will go toward renting and operating a home where women and any of their children up to the age of 17 can continue to live in a safe, supportive, sober environment at no cost.“We love working with Saint John’s Health Center Foundation because they’re forward-thinking, receptive and open to hearing what the community needs,” Dr. Steele says. “We’re looking forward to helping these women work on their long-term recovery.”Daza says the program gave her the opportunity to have her baby in a positive environment, where she was able to live alongside other new mothers who all shared the common goals of sobriety and providing a healthy start for their newborns. “We had five newborns all together, and we were all so supportive and receptive to each other,” Daza says. “What made this different from other programs I’ve tried was the compassion. I’m looking forward to continuing with the program once they have the new house available.”Daza says she currently has her own place in Lynwood, where she can focus on raising her daughter thanks to the fresh start she got through the program.“Serenity is still small, so we spend a lot of time riding the train together, taking walks and reading the Bible,” she says.“I feel like my addiction still exists, but it doesn’t control my life anymore.”
Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services has been a prominent fixture in Southern California for nearly 80 years. The organization first started offering free mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention services in 1942. “One of the issues that’s become clear to us is that we need a better connection between mental health care and traditional health care,” explains Kita Curry, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services. “People who struggle with serious mental health issues die at ages up to 25 years younger than the general population.” That statistic underlies one of the biggest challenges in the health care system today: a lack of communication between care providers, and a health care system that tends to treat acute health problems without addressing the underlying reasons—including mental health problems—that contribute to chronic health issues. Dr. Curry tells the story of “John,” a client who has struggled with chronic mental illness most of his life. “When he came to see us, a recent divorce and homelessness had caused his life to spiral out of control,” she says. “He also has serious chronic health problems— diabetes, high blood pressure, limited mobility—but he hadn’t seen a doctor in four years.” Integrated care is about more than simply making a doctor’s appointment for patients like John. The CIF grant provides funding for care coordinators who help connect patients like John to all of the different services they need to get and stay healthy.
Even something as seemingly simple as transportation can become a major barrier to care if a patient doesn’t have the means to actually get to their appointments. The small act of helping a patient obtain a ride share or taxi to their medical appointments can potentially prevent the patient from needing an ambulance ride to the emergency room weeks or months down the line. “In two years John has had 31 medical appointments, including visits with his primary care physician and specialists,” Dr. Curry explains. “We also found that he had been inconsistent with his medications over the years. We were able to help him focus on the right medications. We helped him get a walker, and we provided funding for temporary housing until we could get his benefits reinstated.” As a nonprofit, Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services has a broad network of partners around the city and state. It’s also funded through a mix of government contracts and grants from local, regional and national organizations. Funding from the CIF grant has helped provide integrated care to more than 300 patients enrolled through the Westside Family Health Clinic and Venice Family Clinic. “You can’t coordinate care if you don’t have people talking to each other,” Dr. Curry says. “Without funding from the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation, we wouldn’t have the people and resources to collect and evaluate patient information and coordinate care for more than 300 people.”