During the eighteen years he served as a Catholic priest, Vincent Keane worked with anyone in need: people who were homeless, people who were wealthy, people who were bereaved.
“Human service has been my passion,” he said.
After leaving the ministry, Vincent became CEO of DC-based Health Care for the Homeless Project in 1990. Now called Unity Health Care, Inc., it is the largest primary health care agency in the DC metropolitan area, providing services to more than 100,000 people annually through more than 600,000 return visits. Nine out of ten patients in the Unity system have incomes below the federal poverty level. No one is ever turned away because of cost.
A critical component of Unity Health is integrating primary and mental health care. With several psychiatrists and mental health therapists on staff, the Unity mental health team has been referring patients to Woodley House for the past several years.
Vincent joined the Woodley House board in January of 2014.
“Therapy and medications are important. That’s why there needs to be a crossover between mental health and primary care medical care. But the real strength of Woodley House is the support system that is provided. In particular, there is recognition by Woodley House that addressing the needs of people with mental illness is not really one agency’s responsibility. There is a whole need for wraparound services, which I think Woodley House is very good at cultivating.”
Vincent believes that what makes Woodley House unique is its longstanding, consistent history of supporting people with mental illness. It was founded in 1958 as one of the country’s first neighborhood-based treatment centers designed as an alternative to institutionalization.
“Local and state government tend to respond to public crises. After a crisis, all of a sudden, people are outraged and look to provide solutions and money. But that response can sometimes be short lived.
“What I feel is unique about Woodley House is we don’t need any dramatic public events. Woodley House has a track record of service. We have been there when mental health was unnoticed. We are still there when the system doesn’t work for the most vulnerable.”
Woodley House strives to help people whether they have resources or not. That is why, Vincent says, Woodley House is constantly working to subsidize its services to low-income residents with private donations. On average, Woodley House is reimbursed only 73 cents for every dollar of care it provides. In order to maintain its highest standards of care, Woodley House must raise over $250,000 annually from private donors.
Woodley House serves both people eligible for financial support through the D.C. Department of Mental Health and private pay patients who need the same level of supportive services to recover.
“We sometimes associate mental health only with marginalized or underserved communities. The reality is mental health issues cut across all economic and social barriers.”
“Woodley House is truly a safety net. And there are not enough places like Woodley.”