Voice and choice are essential for individuals on the path of recovery. Yet for some of our most vulnerable members, those unable to independently understand, protect and exercise their rights due to mental illness or cognitive impairment, self-determination is insurmountable without assistance.
The Arizona Department of Health Services, Division of Behavioral Health Services (ADHS/DBHS), has an established Office of Human Rights (OHR) to provide advocacy for such individuals. The focus of OHR is to provide advocacy to individuals determined to have a serious mental illness (SMI) to help them understand, protect and exercise their rights, facilitate self-advocacy through education and obtain access to behavioral health services in the publicly funded behavioral health system in Arizona.
OHR primarily represents individuals with a SMI and in need of Special Assistance- that is, individuals who are unable to independently express their goals and preferences and protect their rights — in service and discharge planning and in the grievance and appeal processes. Currently in the state of Arizona there are over 1,100 clients that have been identified to be in need of Special Assistance of whom OHR provides direct advocacy to more than 400. The remaining Special Assistance population receives advocacy and assistance from others, such as their friends, family members or guardians. OHR also provides technical assistance, information and guidance to friends, family members and guardians when requested to support their advocacy efforts.
OHR works with members to understand their treatment needs and preferences, and to works collaboratively work with other entities to ensure that members’ needs are met, that their rights are protected and that desired services can be accessed without barriers.
To accomplish this, OHR interfaces with several other entities including, but not limited to adult probation, the public defenders’ office, the public fiduciary’s’ offices, other advocacy agencies, and peer run organizations. Last month, OHR had nearly 600 encounters with clients, stakeholders, and providers in the field to accomplish our work! The value in this collaborative approach is essential to achieve the best outcomes for this vulnerable population.
In addition to the provision of individual advocacy, OHR also identifies and addresses systemic issues. Systemic issues can be identified through themes from multiple cases, or through our representation on a single case when, for example, a policy or practice is problematic and has the potential to impact others besides our client. Further, OHR serves as the front line reporters for DBHS to identify potential problems in the system to allow for early intervention and correction.
The past few months have been both exciting and challenging for the behavioral health system. The transition of Regional Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA) and delivery models in Maricopa County not only brings the promise of integrated care and improved outcomes, it carries the growing pains associated with operational and programmatic changes. In these times, advocacy becomes even more essential for those individuals who might otherwise fall through the cracks.
OHR looks forward to the new challenge on the horizon beginning October 2015 as we transition the model and RBHAs for Greater Arizona. Clearly, advocacy is an integral part of an ever evolving behavioral health system. It is an honor for OHR to be a part of the members’ voices and choices to improve the care for the individual member, as well as the system as a whole.
Dana Hearn is the Office Chief at the Office of Human Rights and has been in the mental health field for over 12 years, serving a wide variety of populations. Dana is a graduate of Arizona State University. During Dana’s time in the mental health field she has worked as a behavioral consultant for both inpatient and outpatient settings, as well as within the regional behavioral health clinics and residential facilities in both the DDD and behavioral health systems. Most of Dana’s work as a behavioral consultant was geared toward individuals dually diagnosed with SMI and DD. Through behavioral consultation Dana wrote many functional behavioral assessments and behavior plans assisting clients to greater independence and furtherance of their skills. From July 2011 to March 2014 she served as the Lead Advocate for the Office of Human Rights prior to becoming Office Chief.