“Mental health issues cut across all economic and social barriers.”

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.”

“Many of us who support Woodley House do so because we have experienced mental illness in our own families.”

We asked Woodley House Board member Ann Terry Pincus to share why Woodley House and its annual movie benefit have a special place in her heart. Here’s her story:

Some one asked me recently why I have supported Woodley House for so many years. The answer is sad in one way: because mental illness continues to be a terrible and dismaying problem for way too many people. It is true that advances have been and continue to be made to help people cope with mental issues, but still, it is not enough. Whole families suffer if one person is struck with mental illness. Whole communities are hurt by even one person unable to cope with his or her problem. So I try to help those struggling with their problems find help and hopefully a solution. One of the best ways is through Woodley House, which provides a caring home environment while sufferers get their lives back together. Woodley House helps people relearn their life skills and find the strength to go forward.

Many of us who support Woodley House do so because we have experienced mental illness in our own families. In my case it was my father who suffered extreme anxiety and took many overdoses of drugs, which he hoped would help combat his fears and apprehensiveness. But all of his pain and problems caused much trauma in our family; we were unable to understand his agony and finally he just couldn’t cope and died at only 66 years old, still in anguish. So I am hopeful that Woodley House can help other families as they deal with problems that seem to be without relief. We had no Woodley House when I was a young girl and I know that my father would have prospered with such an arrangement. Therefore my support of Woodley House grows stronger with every passing year. I believe absolutely in its mission and purpose.

But how do we support financially such hands-on living arrangements, complete with 24- hour medical and psychiatric care? One way is through the annual Woodley House movie benefit, now almost 20 years old. This benefit not only helps support those experiencing mental problems but also gives enjoyment (beyond the satisfaction of knowing the money is going to a great cause) to those who contribute. Who wouldn’t want to snuggle down in a big theatre with free popcorn and coke and watch one of the best movies of the year?

Of course the answer to that is that everyone — or almost everyone — would jump at the chance to enjoy themselves. And this year we have “Unbroken,” which is particularly appropriate for Woodley House consumers and supporters. It is the story of a young man who overcame all odds and survived even PTSD to become — in every way — a true hero. This tale will inspire all of us — whether we are struggling with mental issues or living the life of Riley — to try harder to make a better world. I hope that all of you who read this blog will be inspired (at this very moment) to click on “Unbroken” here  and buy a ticket (or more than one if possible!) to our benefit on December 17th.