Inspiring. Healing. Connected.

These are just a handful of the ways many first-time attendees described the opening day of the Camden Coalition’s Putting Care at the Center 2023 conference in Boston.

MC Gladys Antelo-Allen on the stage at Putting Care at the Center 2023“We always say this is like our family reunion and that’s indeed the feeling I’m getting here today,” said Gladys Antelo-Allen, Associate Director for Education
and Training at the Camden Coalition and the event’s emcee.

Now in its eighth year, the conference is an opportunity for people who work in every sphere of complex care to learn about leading edge programs, share strategies, and build the connections they need to make transformative changes in policy and practice. As in years’ past, people with lived experience of complex care take center stage.

This year’s theme — Elevating behavioral health in whole-person care  — is particularly meaningful, said our CEO Kathleen Noonan, because many elements of the complex care principles and approaches originated in the behavioral health community. “Their advocacy and methods established a vision for peer leadership in holistic services,” Noonan said.

This year’s event is being co-hosted by the Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA) and its sister organization, the Center to Advance Consumer Partnership (CACP). Both organizations are standouts in the field of complex care, and both are part of the coalition working with the Camden Coalition on INSPIRE, a project to develop a national strategy and best practices for establishing meaningful partnerships between health care organizations and people with lived experience.

CCA, which is both a health care payer and a care delivery provider for people with significant physical, behavioral health, and social needs, demonstrates what that looks like in practice. “Consumers are at the center of our care model and dictate how they receive care and how they want care,” said Chris Palmieri, CCA’s CEO.

CCA offered attendees a tour of two innovative residential programs it oversees in Massachusetts. The first, Marie’s Place in Brighton, is a crisis stabilization unit that offers short-term acute psychiatric care in a home-like setting at a fraction of the cost of an inpatient stay. The second is a temporary housing community on the grounds of the former Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain. Residents staying in one of 22 heated cottages, which range in size from 60 to 100 square feet, have access to onsite medical, behavioral health, and substance use disorder supports, as well as assistance finding long-term housing. Of the 114 people who have lived there, 82 have transitioned to permanent housing, Palmieri said.

Conference attendees raise their handsConference attendees also heard about an ambitious plan to increase access to behavioral health services in Massachusetts. The Roadmap for Behavioral Health Reform, launched in 2019, is the state’s effort to increase access to community-based care and crisis response services. A state-run helpline that’s staffed 24/7 helps callers find their way to care, in part through warm handoffs to community behavioral health centers (CBHCs), such as Riverside Community Care. The CBHCs receive bundled payments that allow them to offer integrated mental health and addiction treatment, as well as a range of wraparound supports. “This is a huge shift in the community-based landscape in Massachusetts,” said Vic DiGravio, president of Riverside Community Care. The enhanced payments have allowed Riverside to compete for the first time with hospitals and primary care practices for staff.

Another highlight of the day was a plenary session on leading with lived experience, which featured Paolo del Vecchio, the Director of the Office of Recovery at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and Marcella Middleton, Executive Director of A Way Home America, an organization that works to end and prevent youth
homelessness. Both shared their journey to becoming leaders in their respective fields and their recommendations for ensuring that people with a wealth of lived experience are recognized and compensated for their contributions.

Speakers Paolo del Vecchio and Marcella Middleton onstage with moderator Victor Murray“I tell people all the time…What we bring as experts, you can’t get off a book at Barnes and Noble,” Middleton said. “The investment is not forcing those of us with lived expertise to fit in a box of leadership, but really letting us define and transform these roles.”

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