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Lou Schwarcz State of the Agency at September, 2014 Annual Meeting

Welcome to the 2014 annual dinner of the Mental Health Association of Morris County.

Every year at this time I utilize my role as President and CEO to update you, our staff, board, volunteers and members, as to how we are doing as an agency: where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.

To state an obvious truth, things have never been so tough for those we serve.

People with mental illness and their families face greater barriers than ever before. These include the lack of a fully funded community based mental health system, the lack of inpatient beds, and hospital lengths of stay that are not long enough to stabilize people in crisis. They also include the lack of transportation, difficulty affording food, a scarcity of decent, affordable housing, growing poverty, and increasing dislocation and homelessness. Our clients also face an increasing stigma against people with mental illness as a result of shooting incidents and other instances of a failed mental health system.

We, as an agency, are challenged with growing financial pressure, increased regulations that divert us from our mission, and a changing health care environment that does not favor small health care agencies. We are also challenged with more mental illness and poverty coming our way on a daily basis than we can appropriately respond to with our limited resources.

So tonight I am here to tell you, in no uncertain terms, that we are strong enough to face these obstacles, and that we will persevere and thrive, even in these difficult times.

However, in order to overcome all these challenges, we must continue to live and work according to shared core values and practices.

These core values and practices are simple; we believe that people with mental illness, and their families, endure unbearable suffering, and our job is to help alleviate their burdens. All of our efforts are designed to help minimize the struggles for people that are mentally and emotionally injured, and to walk with them, in body, mind and spirit, during their darkest hours.

We live our beliefs every day through our programs and services.  

First, we go to where people are; we do not wait for people to come to us. That is why our services take place in peoples’ homes, in psychiatric hospitals, on the streets, in shelters, in jails, in motels, and in rooming and boarding homes. We take our message to the people, and support them in the places where they live and work.

Second, we have a staff that is trained to work in a professional, competent manner that is both humanistic and cost effective. Our staff continues to be trained in evidence based professional practices that save the county and state over 30 million dollars per year in decreased use of institutional beds, psychiatric emergency rooms, shelters, motels and jails.

Third, we cultivate volunteers, in our service lines, on our board, and on our committees, that help us to raise money and to build a solid base of community support.

But most importantly, we are known to demonstrate qualities that many people in the society are missing, and that many people do not understand or value. That is, we accord dignity, honor and respect to every single person or family that walks through our doors.

Mental illness is singularly effective in degrading people and destroying their spirit. People with mental illness are agonized by symptoms, which are often devastating, such as symptoms of psychosis, mania, depression, anxiety, compulsion, or trauma.  They live in tremendous pain.

We have found, however, through many years of our work, that if people are treated with their dignity in tact, if they are honored for who they are and for how much they struggle, and if they are respected in their choices and in their perspective, then people can heal and recover from even the most severe symptoms that they must endure.

All of our programs and services mean nothing if people are not treated properly, but if they are, then all of our programs and services, built on a strong foundation, will thrive.

Our funders, regulators, legislative leaders, volunteers, and private donors will continue to support us if they see that we continue to live our values in our work, and that our practices match our core values.

In this way, we will get through these tough days; we will stick together and we will rough it out.

And, at the end of it all, the Mental Health Association of Morris County will continue to be a place of hope, faith, and recovery for people that are devastated by mental illness, their families, and those that love them, and we will be here, doing the good work, for many years to come.

Have a great rest of the night.