Mental Health Conference Convenes at Grafton

August 29, 2007

By Jessica J. Burchard
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Despite differences in policy, representatives from three countries have found common issues in mental health care options.

A group of eight mental health specialists — from New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States — convened at the Grafton Inc. administrative offices on Monday and Tuesday.

Their meeting is part of a new campaign for mental health awareness called the International Initiative for Disability Leadership. The meeting was co-sponsored by Grafton and New Zealand’s Office for Disability Issues and the Ministry of Health’s Disability Services Directorate.

“The conference is about trying to get leaders in different disciplinary fields together to see how their systems run,” said Geraldine Woods, senior public service officer for the New Zealand Ministry of Health. “I didn’t come here with any agenda, besides exchanging information.”

During their gathering, the group toured Grafton’s Winchester offices and a residential facility in Berryville before sitting down for a roundtable discussion on Tuesday afternoon.

Patty Cooney, regional director for South West England Care Services Partnership, praised the exchange of ideas. “There are strengths in everyone’s services and the idea is what can we learn from them,” he said. “Actually, having face-to-face contact to learn is the best.”

Cooney was amazed at the differences between the UK’s National Health Care system and the free-market health care system. “In England, we have the National Health Services, so no one is left out,” he said. “In America, there are people with health insurance, but no long-term care. You have people selling their homes and moving in with their children because of health care costs.”

Today, Cooney and the others will travel to Ottawa for a three-day conference. Canada also has a national health care system. While many of Grafton’s programs were lauded, its new “extraordinary blocking” technique received considerable attention. The technique was implemented in 2006 and features a staff member using a cushion with handles on it to prevent harm or frightening a child who has become violent.

“The whole policy they’ve developed there is something to take away,” Cooney said. “They’ve got the staff engaged.” In addition to its blocking technique, Grafton was endorsed for taking on youths with severe disabilities such as emotional disturbances, learning disabilities, mental retardation, autistism, and severe behavioral disorders.

“In most other areas of the country, those people are being pingponged among different organizations,” said Eileen Elias, a deputy director for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Elias coordinates policy supporting integrated human and human services systems at all levels of public and private systems. She also works to ensure that people with disabilities have access to education, employment, housing, and other resources.

Citing her experience internationally and in the United States, Elias noted how well-organized Grafton’s services are. “Grafton has developed a terrific program,” she said. “For us, in the U.S., Grafton is a model program.”

Grafton operates 23 group homes across Virginia, including about a dozen in the Winchester area and a Berryville facility. For all the comparisons and contrasts among the services, Woods stressed one central goal for the conference.

“What we’re trying to do is keep the conference relevant to everybody,” she said. “How do we get the best services for everyone?”