2017 ADM Board Trailblazer Award recipients from left to right: Noor Hindi, Ilenia Pezzaniti and M. Sophie Franchi from The Devil Strip, Candace Pallante, Gerard Dusa and Lori Barber and Beth Trivelli (representing Greg McNeil).
ADM Board Honors Trailblazers at Appreciation Luncheon
About 230 people attended the appreciation luncheon where the County of Summit Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health (ADM) Services Board paid tribute to local trailblazers. Those who received the 2017 Trailblazer Awards include: Candace Pallante, Gerard Dusa, The Devil Strip, and Greg McNeil.
In 2007, the County of Summit Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health (ADM) Services Board established these awards in honor of five individuals who are recognized as being trailblazers and advocates in the mental health and addiction services field. This award process is intended not only to honor the original trailblazers which included Drs. Fred and Penny Frese, Maggie Carroll Smith, Sr. Mary Ignatia and Dr. Bob Smith, but also to provide a forum to recognize individuals who emulate their example and service.
The Maggie Carroll Smith Award
The 2017 Maggie Carroll Smith Award this year was presented to Candace Pallante and was presented by 2016 awardee Joel Testa. Candy Pallante has been an active participant in the Summit County system starting with her involvement as an employee of the ADAPT unit at the Summit County Jail and then at Portage Path Behavioral Health Psychiatric Emergency Services. Under her tutelage, she has created a staff that has implemented innovative strategies to maintain the 24 hour operation of PES. This is not easy, especially at times when PES is experiencing a high volume of individuals experiencing some of the most severe symptoms. But her even manner and level-headed response makes the program run effectively in spite of these challenges. Even during normal operations in the Emergency Evaluations area, Candy demonstrates flexible, creative and client centered interventions and approaches to all in crisis.
Her willingness to do "whatever it takes" for clients to be safe, thoroughly evaluated and treated with dignity and respect is noteworthy. This includes taking phone calls at all hours of the night, working to eliminate the use of physical restraint, and going on home visits with deputies to investigate probate orders. She is held in high regard in her role as Deputy Clerk of the Probate Court. She has always gone above and beyond in many areas of work, all while adding an RN to her already accomplished LSW.
Ms. Pallante often generates creative and innovative solutions to resolve community conflict or crises. Her ability to conceptualize a problem from many perspectives lends itself to innovative conflict resolution and improved community strategies. Here is one example: One time a client was brought to PES after various agencies would not see him because he was insistent on keeping his bicycle with him at all times. This client was homeless. After discussion with the client and attempts to negotiate the situation, she learned that the bike was the only item he had in his life that meant something to him, and as part of his crisis he would not let it out of his sight. She agreed to let him keep his bike with him, and allowed the bike to go with him through the various stages of his care. This helped reduce his anxiety and helped him with his recovery journey.
One of her colleagues calls her the “go to” person for people with complicated multi-system involvement who is 200% committed. Candy is a tireless client advocate who uses every opportunity to work toward ensuring that clients are heard and their needs are met. Her extensive knowledge and understanding of the mental health and criminal justice system is known to many and she goes out of her way to be a resource to others.
Since assuming leadership of the agency’s Zero Suicide efforts she has kept this important initiative front and center. Implementing Zero Suicide principles requires a culture change and is not a race but a marathon. Candy’s patience and her ability to see the bigger picture has been essential in maintaining the necessary level of energy and investment for a complicated, agency-wide change process. Under her leadership, implementation of Zero Suicide principles has become an agency goal, clinicians are being trained in suicide-specific interventions and the team is hard at work designing a safe suicide care pathway for our at-risk clients.
Candy has said that she finds it rewarding to advocate for clients, especially when she sees them progress in their recovery process. In her words, “When it comes to advocacy, sometimes it is not the big things in life that help the client most, it's meeting the client at their level of care needs. Taking care of small things can make a big impact and little things can mean a lot.” We agree and wish to congratulate Candy for all the ways, small and not so small, that she strives to help others take the first steps in their recovery journey.
Drs. Fred and Penny Frese Award
The 2017 award recipient is Gerard Dusa who received his award from the 2016 award recipient, Judge Annalisa Stubbs Williams. As a self-described “Wellness Warrior” and “Interdisciplinary Technologist”, Gerard Dusa has made it his mission to educate others about mental health and to support those recovering from a mental illness.
Gerard acknowledges that as someone with a personal journey of recovery, he has had to learn to manage his mental illness. His illness led him into the legal system, and his recovery path included a protracted hospital stay, court supervision, and being required to receive support services at Tarry House. But Gerard did everything he could to get better, and eventually he was able to return to independent living. These experiences have led him to understand the importance of communication with his care team, social support, getting enough sleep, and managing his medications. Through all of this, Gerard has been willing to use his experiences to help others in their recovery.
He is described by others as a wonderful, kind hearted man who helps eliminate stigma though his example. He educates others about living with mental illness and supports those who are impacted by it. While at Mental Health America, Gerard was a peer educator with the BRIDGES program where he helped to educate and encourage peers on the recovery process. He has touched many lives in his presentations on maintaining wellness. He teaches about techniques to manage symptoms, gain health and find joy. Techniques such as journaling, walking, playing music, scheduling quiet time and even laughing (in his words, “Let yourself be silly”) can be effective in enhancing wellness. He reminds us that achieving wellness takes planning and effort and no doubt would like to remind all of us to take time to better care for ourselves.
Gerard was one of the first people to be involved in helping to educate community leaders by sharing his personal story through the Lunch with Leaders program at Community Support Services. He also provided education to case managers as a consumer panelist, sharing what supports were most helpful to him as he moved back into independent housing. As a program graduate of the Cognitive Enhancement Program (CEP) at CSS, he mentors and supports other graduates.
Gerard’s service extends beyond those with mental illnesses. He has a heart for those who are lonely. An accomplished musician, Gerard plays piano and organ at nursing facilities. It is not unusual to see him with his accordion, offering to liven up any party or recovery event with a polka version of happy birthday or other festive songs.
Gerard’s experience shows others that they can overcome limitations that mental illnesses sometimes present. He has served as a board of directors for Tarry House, where he once received services. He is open about his limitations, but did not let that prevent him from pursuing his dream of traveling to Europe to see the Vatican. Things did not always go as planned, but Gerard now carries this experience as an example. That if you draw on your recovery management skills, a little resiliency, and a large dose of hope, anyone experiencing a mental illness can accomplish their life goals. Gerard has had a profound impact on the lives of those who may need to hear an encouraging word and a gentle nudge.
Sr. Ignatia Trailblazer Award
The Devil Strip was presented with the 2017 Sr. Ignatia Hope Award by the 2016 recipient, Dr Nicole Labor. Like Sr. Ignatia, The Devil Strip continues to uplift those challenged by addictions by providing hope and compassion with their focus on recovery stories. For the past two years, their website has featured a section on Recovery where readers can easily find stories of real people in the Akron area describing their lived experiences of addiction and recovery. Their print news, website and social media help to promote the fact that recovery is possible which serves to inspire others. In addition to the articles that feature individuals in recovery, there are educational pieces that cover a range of related topics, including prevention, the local drug court, parenting challenges and the impact that addiction has on family and friends. Most recently, in this month’s issue, a story focused on three mothers in recovery and the challenges of keeping their families together. The article highlights programs for recovering moms and talks about the different ways each mom is staying involved like Danielle who is a recovery advocate for sober living, and Marie who is a recovery coach and an Opiate Task Force member.
The Devil Strip also took an active role in promoting the Jake’s Reach community outreach programs this summer. An article “Heroin is Killing our Kids, Silence is Killing Our Communities” told Jake’s story through his grandfather, Frank Marr and was published in the Culture Club section of the paper. The Jake’s Reach meetings were also added to the Devil Strip’s calendar and in the July edition of the paper, Jake’s Reach made it onto the list called The Devil’s Dozen – “Our picks for the 12 best choices you can make this month”.
Another story focused on the distribution of Deterra medicine disposal bags and the importance of getting rid of leftover pills which helped to educate the greater community to have an effect on the supply of pills.
These articles help to reduce the stigma that is frequently associated with the disease of addiction and shine a light on recovery. Read more here: bit.ly/AkronRecovery
Dr. Bob Smith Trailblazer award
Those honored with the Dr. Bob Smith Trailblazer award are known for offering hope and inspiring change in others. This year’s recipient is Greg McNeil which was presented by the 2016 recipient, Reba McCray. After tragically losing his son Sam to a heroin overdose, Greg McNeil launched Cover2 Resources in March 2016 to spread awareness, educate, and advocate for those affected by the opioid epidemic through an ongoing podcast series. Cover2 Resources produces the PPT podcasts, a podcast series about People, Places and Things making a difference in the opioid epidemic. There are now over 120 podcasts with topics ranging from harm-reduction strategies, how to select a treatment provider, and what families need to know to best support their loved ones struggling with opioid addiction.
Greg has served as an active member of the Summit County Opiate Task Force and was an integral part of the team that arranged several events last April which featured Dreamland author, Sam Quinones. He also co-chairs the Policy and Advocacy Committee of the task force.
Through Cover2, Greg has identified and helped implement numerous programs to help fight the opioid epidemic in Northeast Ohio. Of particular note is the development of Quick Response Teams (QRT) in our community. Greg learned about the concept of QRT in the southern part of Ohio and approached the ADM Board about helping to disseminate this program. In partnership with the Board, he facilitated a QRT training late last year. He recognized that this was a creative and innovative approach to reaching out to those who recently overdosed, and advocated for implementation in Summit County.
The QRT is best described as an outreach team comprised of a medic, police officer and a counselor. The team provides outreach each week to individuals who overdosed during the previous week and are revived with Narcan. Central to the QRT outreach is an offering of a resource packet and support to assist the overdose victim into treatment. This resource information is also provided to the family.
The counselor provides ongoing contact and support and acts to identify and facilitate a warm hand-off to treatment. The first two QRT teams started in January of this year and, as of this writing, there are 10 operational QRT teams in Summit County with additional ones in development. Data of the first six months shows that 429 individuals were seen, and 128 people who have been touched by QRT have entered treatment- 59% of them within one month of seeing a QRT.
The QRT has also had a positive impact on the attitude and satisfaction level of first responders who take part in the team.
We applaud Greg for his vision, his tenacity, and his activism in his ongoing pursuit of ending this opiate epidemic. “Sam was a giver,” says McNeil in a recent news article. “He wanted to do whatever he could to help others not go down that path. On a daily basis, I’m working with my son and I’m inspired by him.”