“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.

“In Recovery, Small Decisions and Small Steps Can Make a Big Difference.”

Charles Curie’s first job out of graduate school was at a community mental health center in Fostoria, a small town in northwestern Ohio. He headed up a program that helped people with serious mental illness transition out of the hospital into the community.

It was there that he learned the importance of empowering consumers to make their own choices rather than have a system manage their choices for them. This is the essence of the recovery model, which lays the foundation of Woodley House’s work.

“I remember one person in particular – I’ll call him Roy. He had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in his 20s. By the time I was working with him, he was in his 40s. He had been released from the state hospital and was now in the program. Roy was very disabled. He couldn’t function. He would talk about the voices waylaying him, preventing him from being able to focus on anything, to get an education or employment, despite being highly intelligent.

“But as he became stabilized on medication, I encouraged him to run for the role of chairman, which took the lead in organizing the program participants’ activities. Roy decided to do it. He ran and was voted in by his peers. And as he started to take on more responsibility, I saw him blossom and bloom. He became more confident. He was able to be a mentor to others. That just strengthened his ability to make it in the community.”

“It was clear to me early on that back then, people in institutional care—even in programs run by agencies—were consistently being managed by external structures and people. They were never able to learn how to manage their own affairs. I believe that once people see the small decisions and steps they make each day make a difference, they can gain greater levels of autonomy.”

Charley kept Roy’s experience in mind as he went on to lead state and national efforts to foster recovery by breaking down systemic barriers that prevent people from living in the community. From 2001 to 2006, he was appointed by President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. From 1995 to 2001, he served as deputy secretary for Pennsylvania’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. While there, he led an effort to reframe the state hospitals as launch pads for recovery, ensuring that the first day of admission to a state hospital, a client received a discharge plan with the goal of guiding them back out into the community. He also led efforts that ultimately eliminated the use of seclusion and restraint practices in the state hospital system. Pennsylvania’s work became a model for the rest of the country and won the national 2000 Innovations in American Government Award.

Serving on the Woodley House board gives Charley an opportunity to go back to his roots and help people in his own community.

“I’ve been very active on the national level for the past fifteen years. What motivates me about Woodley House is the idea of being engaged at a volunteer level in the community where I live, with services in my own backyard. That is very meaningful to me. Woodley House is my local connection to making sure people have a life in the community. It is nice to be able to really focus on the impact that Woodley House makes on the lives of individuals.”

“There is no other organization quite like Woodley House, focused on mental illness and housing and supportive services.”

Meet Woodley House’s Board President, Isabel Jasinowski.

Isabel’s mother, Mimi Hyde, had her first bipolar episode in 1949 when Isabel was born. This was a time before the term bipolar even existed, and very little was known about mental health. And yet despite the severe stigma surrounding mental illness, Mimi was very open about her experience.

“She was really a pioneer on how to approach mental illness as something not to be ashamed of. She always talked about it very openly. She shared with other people because she felt, ‘Ok, we don’t know what it is, but I can’t be the only one. And it’s important for people not to feel that they have to keep it a secret. Keeping it a secret just increases the pain.’

“For twenty years, she tried everything the doctors advised her to do, but they couldn’t tell her what she had because they just didn’t know in that day and age. I don’t know how she ever, survived without medication for so long. She was one of the first people in the U.S. to get on lithium.”

Bipolar disorder runs in Isabel’s immediate and extended family. She herself lives with it.

“My sister and I have always been very open on a one-to-one basis. As you might imagine, when I was in the business world, I was careful for quite some time in terms of not talking about it. But towards the end of my career, I said, “Hey, maybe I can help others.” So now that I’m retired I talk to people very openly about it.

Isabel recently retired from a career in government affairs, and is looking forward to dedicating her time to helping Woodley House as Board Chair. The Board has laid out some important goals for the near future as it faces a challenging policy environment in Washington, DC.

Currently, the DC Department of Behavioral Health is transitioning toward a “home-first” model, in which people with chronic mental illness receive supportive wrap around services only after being secured permanent housing. This differs from Woodley House, which offers services as integral parts of its program to help vulnerable individuals in crisis find more stable footing. During this time of rapid policy change, the implications for Woodley House remain unclear.

“We are not saying Home First is a bad idea. What we are saying is that some people – like the population we serve – really can’t afford any lapse in services. They don’t do well on their own without that support and they need to be in a community residential setting as they transition towards independence. Programs like Woodley House play a critical role in making sure there is no break in those critical services.”

Because the mental health sector is constantly in flux, one of Isabel’s primary goals for Woodley House is to broaden the base of public-private partnerships and resources for Woodley House consumers. The Woodley House Board kicked off a major fundraising campaign in September with the goal of raising an additional $100,000 over the next two years from private sources.

In addition to raising funds, Isabel and the Board want to raise more friends of Woodley House. For decades, Woodley House has had a dedicated group of individuals and families whose support has been critical to people living with mental illness in the Washington, DC metro area. Isabel would like to see that circle of support expand.

“Save December 17th for Woodley House’s 18th annual movie benefit, a special advanced screening of Unbroken from Universal Pictures,” Isabel said. Directed by Angelina Jolie, it is based on the best-selling book by Washingtonian Laura Hillenbrand and tells a truly remarkable story.

“The movie benefit is an excellent way to celebrate the commitment of the Washington, DC community to Woodley House. There is no other organization quite like Woodley House, focused on mental illness and housing and supportive services.

“And what makes Woodley House so special is its commitment to treating each person as an individual with no cookie-cutter notion of what they need. We offer people a continuum of care from crisis care to semi-independent living with the goal of getting people reintegrated into the community. Woodley House treats its residents with dignity and respect. Woodley House wants residents to participate in the decision-making process as to what is best for them. It is a profound model.”

“Every life has meaning, and every person can teach you something.”

Woodley House is fortunate to have dedicated employees who care deeply about helping people with mental health problems reclaim their lives and reach their personal goals and aspirations.

In this blog, I would like to introduce you to our Director of Clinical Services, Maria Paipa. Maria grew up in Argentina and was convinced she would study medicine and become a physician like her father, but she realized she was more interested in human nature and human behavior than medicine.

She received her M.A. in clinical psychology from University of Buenos Aires in Argentina and worked in clinical and community settings across Argentina and in Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, New York, and London before coming to Woodley House in 2004.

Much of Maria’s time is spent supervising staff and working with agencies, part of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health, to provide and coordinate psychiatric treatment for eligible consumers. In Washington, DC, most consumers are served by one core service agency that acts as a “clinical home” to integrate clinical care for that person’s unique needs. The goal of this model is to improve quality of care and reduce waste that can occur when providers don’t communicate with each other.

As a social service agency that provides supportive housing services, Woodley House is an excellent partner to core service agencies that provide clinical care. “Many times we tell them something that is happening with the consumers that they don’t know about because they see them once, maybe twice a month, and we see them every day.”

Her favorite part of her job is working directly with consumers. She says consumers and their families frequently turn to Woodley House because they are overwhelmed and frustrated and just need help to manage the consequences of the illness in their daily lives.

For example, some people with mental illness are physically and emotionally isolated from their community. Living under the supportive care of Woodley House counselors and life skills trainers can help them find the tools to connect with other people and bring more meaning into their life. Maria describes one recent example where Woodley House could help:

“We had this young man come to us who was living at home with his mother. He was depressed and showing psychotic symptoms, and was basically doing nothing with his life. He had no meaningful activity, no enjoyment.

He came to live at Valenti House for about nine months, and little by little, he started to connect and to engage in some of our group activities. He also started connecting with his church activities, with music, and testing the social/communications skills learned in the program with other people living at Valenti House. He started to connect with people in his own age group, which was a milestone since he had always kept himself within his family circle.

His mother helped him find a place in the community close to her, and he is living alone now. I think his experience at Valenti House, which gave him the confidence in connecting with different types of people, was really helpful to him. He still has his issues and he struggles sometimes, but he comes to visit and lets us know how he is progressing.”

Sometimes depression creates a barrier to self-care, and Woodley House counselors can help create a supportive environment for action for consumers who live independently. For example:

“We have another consumer who was referred by Georgetown Hospital. Her social worker called us because she thought our services would be good for her. She is a published writer and lives by herself. We are meeting with her once a week. She suffers from depression, so day-to-day living is very difficult for her. Sometimes she struggles to take her medication on time, so we help her with med-education and management. She has recently been diagnosed with hypertension, so we are helping her manage her symptoms and follow doctors’ recommendations.”

Some people living with mental illness experience feelings of paranoia that make it difficult to connect with other people. Maria describes one recent situation where Woodley House was able to help a man who lived independently:

“The sister of a man who had lived at Valenti House twenty years ago called us. She said her brother was struggling with paranoia, so he didn’t trust people and he didn’t get out much. She wanted to try something new to help him. We started to meet with him once a week, in the place of his choice in his neighborhood, so he was comfortable with the location. We learned he didn’t trust his pharmacy and so sometimes he wouldn’t take his medications. So we made sure his questions and concerns were answered and helped him manage his medications. We learned he was in the process of relocating from one apartment to another, and organizing the new place was an issue for him because he didn’t trust new people to do that. So we helped him organize his new place, and he was very thankful to us for helping with the transition.

One day he said came to us and said, ‘This has been very helpful, but I am not going to be able to keep on coming.’ One of the biggest reasons was his private insurance didn’t cover our services. That is something that I hope will change, especially with efforts around mental health parity. It is less expensive to cover the kind of supportive services we deliver at Woodley House than intensive psychiatric care brought on by a crisis.”

Maria would like to make sure people with mental illness and their families know that in addition to the supportive services Woodley House offers at residential facilities throughout Washington, DC, counselors are increasingly making a difference by offering supportive services in the community where people with mental illness live independently. Woodley House has ten skills trainers who can meet with people living with mental illness who may not need a very structured living environment like Valenti House or Holly House, but can benefit from a weekly check in from a supportive skills trainer.

For more information on Woodley House’s community-based support, reach out to Maria at 202-629-1532 or mpaipa@woodleyhouse.org.

For Maria, working at Woodley House reaffirms her belief that “every life has meaning, and every person can teach you something.”

We hope you will join us in thanking Maria for her dedication to making Woodley House a pathway to recovery for hundreds of Washington, DC area residents each year.

Making the Connection Between Listening and Independence

Woodley House is fortunate to have dedicated employees who care deeply about serving others.

In this blog, I would like to introduce you to our Residential Director, Edward Barnett. Ed oversees the running of Valenti House (our transitional home), Crossing Place (our crisis home) and Holly House (our long-term group home), as well as our Supported Independent Living Apartment Program with apartments throughout the city.

Ed’s dedication to serving others comes from a strong religious and spiritual foundation. His mother was a missionary, so he and his six older siblings naturally grew up helping people. In the early 1980s, he was ordained as a minister and did missionary work in Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. This past month, he spent two weeks on a mission trip to Africa, where he conducted leadership training to pastors and leaders in Kenya (Kakamega, Butere, Kisumu) and Uganda (Torreo and Mbale). In 2013, Ed celebrated 22 years of ministry as a pastor, and has been happily married for 28 years. He has three children who all serve and work in the public service field, giving back.

Being a problem-solver is Ed’s most important job. He studied electrical engineering in college, which has prepared him to think through the issues that come with managing roughly 30 people, ensuring consumer concerns are addressed, and making sure the quality of Woodley House facilities enable recovery in a safe, secure environment.

Unlike many other service providers, Woodley House offers support every step along the journey towards recovery, from crisis to independence. Barnett tells the story of one consumer who recently went through multiple stages of recovery with Woodley House:

“We had a consumer who came to Crossing Place, our crisis house – homeless, did not have any direction, could not care for himself, did not have much support. Within two weeks, we were able to stabilize him and bring him to a place where he could be cognizant enough to understand directions. We transitioned him from the crisis house to Valenti House, where he stayed in the transition program for about a year, and then we transitioned him from that program over to Holly House, where he stayed for about two to three years before he transitioned out. And now he’s out of our program.”

Most transformations he has seen working at Woodley House start with listening and nurturing.

“You have to listen, because listening doesn’t just tell you what consumers need. Sometimes it tells you what they missed in life. And you try to fill some of those voids to give them confidence to step out and try new things, to reshape their thinking and reshape their lives from the tragic situations they have had in the past.

“They begin to imagine and dream for better lives and better living. And with a little support, they learn day by day that they are competent enough to take care of themselves. And they begin to try a little bit more, and then a little bit more, until you begin to see a form of independence develop.”

Barnett says that working at Woodley House gives him the opportunity to live his ideology, which is “Be your best every day. Give – whoever it is you serve – your best, without looking at where they came from or who they are.”

Before coming to Woodley House, Ed was with the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, working with mentally ill children and adolescents, as well as supervising and training counselors. He has a Master’s Degree in Counseling.

We hope you will join us in thanking Ed for his dedication to making Woodley House a pathway to recovery for hundreds of Washington, DC area residents each year.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The field of Mental Health is in an historic moment , not because of a great new break through in therapy; but because of catch up regulations in funding streams. Practicing in the field for over thirty years, I would like to think we are driven by sound thinking and strong empirical data, leading to good policy and practice. The truth is, though sound thinking and good data are part of the field, funding sources and bureaucratic convenience are just as often the propeller and tiller of our ship. We are in an historic moment because powerful and well meaning people in our society are working hard to create a better more humane Health Care System. They will succeed. We will have a model that is cognitive behavioral at it’s essence as opposed to a disease model. The change brings 1950 thinking into the 21st century. This is a great leap forward. We need to remember what brought the system to this point. The disease model was the best collective thinking at the time. New ideas, therapies and approaches developed in each of the following decades. Funding streams did not keep pace with the advancement of ideas leading to a tortured system which sometimes stands in the way of best practice. If we are not careful we will set up a system which will age just as poorly as the last.

Woodley House Inc. has provided care to people suffering from mental illness since 1958. I am often asked how we are able to provide such excellent care when the field we work in has varied to such an extreme. When I think how to rationally answer this question; I think of our core values but I also think of the myriad of adjustments the agency  has gone through to continue to exist and serve. Woodley House’s stated core values are Dignity and Respect. These words have guided our Board of Trustees and our four Executive Directors through the many changes in mental health service over the last 56 years. Contained in these words Dignity and Respect is an appreciation for people as individuals and not a collection of symptoms. These values, pared with an ability to find funders who believe treatment should be individualized, has allowed Woodley House to continue to function even when its approach was not always mainstream. Recently I was reading notes from our founder, Joan Doniger, which reflected problems she was having with the “SYSTEM” during a period in 1964, when she served as Executive Director. I was amazed that although the precise problem was different the battle with bureaucracy was the same that I find today. The “one size fits all” outlook of bureaucratic policy existed then and continues to today. Once the policy is in place it fails to change as the field progresses causing antiquated funding streams and new ideas to go begging for financial support.

If todays policy drafters can resist the “ONE SIZE FITS ALL” outlook and build flexibility into the policies to allow for funding new and more effective approaches the field of mental health will take a giant step in avoiding the pitfalls of the past and the pain it delivers to consumers and families relying on caring and effective services.

More to come

Gary W. Frye

Executive Director

“Anything you need to know about mental health – the knowledge is here.”

SJ_PhotoWoodley House is fortunate to have dedicated employees who are passionate about our mission to help people with mental illness live full and healthy lives with dignity. In this blog, I would like to introduce you to our office manager, Stellvonne Jackson.

Stellvonne has been at Woodley House for six years. She started out as our medical biller and clinical filer, and her role at Woodley House has grown over time. She currently manages our operations, insurance, billing, board correspondence, audit support, and acts as my assistant.

“I love finding a solution for problems, and I love finding new ways that we could possibly come up with more money so we can do what we do bigger.”

Stellvonne spends most of her time following the money. At Woodley House, this means making sure that the providers we bill pay us. Often times, information gets lost and systems don’t talk well with each other. So Stellvonne spends a lot of her time documenting and re-documenting our work. She is applying what she is learning studying for her Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership to create processes and systems to more efficiently collect accounts receivables.

Stellvonne’s commitment to fiscal integrity is critical because on average, Woodley House is reimbursed only 73 cents for every dollar of care we provide. In order to maintain our highest standards of care, Woodley House must raise over $250,000 annually from private donors.

Because Stellvonne’s job has changed so much since she started here, she is constantly learning new things, which is one of her favorite things about her job.

“We’re a small company, so you’ll be given tasks that you’ve never seen before and you have to catch on quickly. You just have to figure it out.”

Working at Woodley House has helped Stellvonne personally as well. In 2012, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and experienced severe depression after a near-death experience. She was able to learn a lot about her diagnoses by listening and learning from the staff and consumers.

“Anything you need to know about mental health – the knowledge is here,” she says.

What keeps Stellvonne at Woodley House is our commitment to consumers.

“Woodley House truly stands behind respect and dignity for consumers. Our consumers are great people, and you hear that everywhere at Woodley House, throughout all of the staff. In a lot of places, people will work for a paycheck, but I feel that the people here really work because they care about the consumers. I think that’s a really big deal. You can send your family here and know that they’re going to be taken care of. My son is a special needs person, so I look at, ‘Is this a place I would send my son if I needed to?’ and I say ‘Yes.’”

We hope you will join us in thanking Stellvonne for her dedication to making Woodley House a pathway to recovery for hundreds of Washington, DC area residents each year.


Special Gifts

Woodley House has operated a Supported In dependent Living program for consumers with persistent mental illness and who are homeless since 1983. The program is funded by charitable support, consumers payment of fees, and funds from Washington D.C. department of Mental Health. This month we learned that the Department of Behavioral Health (formerly mental health) will be supporting another vendors program as opposed to Woodley Houses Supported Independent Living. This is difficult news for the consumers in our present apartments and program.

Woodley House staff worked hard to find alternative funding. We were successful in finding a way to help fund the present program, but it required a significant investment in time and effort from our consumers. I felt the hard news should come from me so the Residential Director, the Clinical Director, the lead supported independent living counselor and myself met with each of the 32 consumers who had lost a third of their funding. I explained to each consumer what had happened and that funds from the Department of Behavioral Health would be available to them but through a vendor other than Woodley House. I also explained if they would commit to working with our staff under a new contract with greater expectations from them we could preserve the program where  they were now enrolled. I expected some consumers would opt to take the path of least resistance and follow the funding. linking up with another agency and leaving Woodley House. Instead I heard 32 stories of the advances each consumer had made and the gratitude they felt toward the Woodley House staff and program. Every consumer signed a new contract and committed to the new work load. Every comment was full of hope. Every man and every women was determined to make this work.

In this time of year when we give gifts to friends and loved ones; this was the special gift our consumers gave to me.


Respite Care

Woodley House has begun a new service at the Valenti House location. Since its inception Valenti House has provided residential services to consumers suffering from long term and persistent mental illness. These services have been for lengths of time determined by the consumers need and progress toward independance. For the last 10 months the agency has offerred an additional service: Respite Care.

Respite Care is for brief stays for consumers who have stable housing but for various reasons need a short stay in a safe comfortable facility. Consumers staying with family may have emergency situations which take their care givers away from the city for short periods of time. Respite Care allows the consumer the choice of staying in Valenti House rather than traveling with their care giver. Consumers using respite care are afforded all the priveledges of longer term residents but for short finite periods. We encourage potential residents to visit in advance and acquaint staff with medical and psychiatric needs.

We are excited to offer this new service and see it as a further step toward consumers enjoying the benefits of living in the community.


Gary W. Frye

Executive Director