A new course at Herkimer County Community College could offer lots of benefits when it comes to caring for some of the community’s more vulnerable residents, say those involved in creating it.
Those potential benefits include students who are better trained to meet current human services trends, local employers who will have an easier time filling vacancies and needed support for individuals —and their families — with mental health or substance abuse issues after they leave institutional care, said Grace Ashline, instructor and supervisor for human services at Herkimer College.
The course is offered through a first-time partnership between the college and the Mental Health Association of New York State.
“This new partnership is really exciting, I think, mutually on both ends, because it’s something that just hasn’t happened before,” said Ashline, who first proposed offering the course at the college to MHANYS, as the association is commonly known.
The course puts MHANYS’ recently developed CarePath Coach certification training, normally a three-day, in-person course, into an online class that will be required for all fourth-semester students earning a human services degree, starting in the spring.
MHANYS already has offered its three-day training to affiliates across the state and will offer it to other human service workers three times in the fall. But those attendees have to pay for training; Herkimer College students will get it as part of their curriculum.
They also may earn 20 continuing education credit hours toward becoming a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC).
The course and the training are well placed to help with a number of current health care and human services trends, including the opioid epidemic and a greater emphasis on community mental health care services.
CarePath is a “blueprint for maintaining better overall health and well being,” according to information from Herkimer College. It uses evidence-based and best practices as individual and families move into recovery together, letting them define health and well-being for themselves, according to the college.
“What we’ve learned is that the CarePath really is applicable to anybody who’s transitioning from hospital, rehabilitation, correctional facility, youth detention facility, supportive housing, wherever someone is struggling to transition to better health and recovery," said Deborah Faust, MHANYS’ director of family engagement who developed the CarePath training. "This is a product that really supports those first 90 days.”
Transitions are recognized as a risky period when patients in recovery from a substance use disorder or a mental health condition may suddenly find themselves with less support and back in their old circumstances, too often leading to relapse or, in the case of the opioid epidemic, overdose.
The Center for Family Life and Recovery also has focused on these transitions with its peer advocacy program, in which people with personal experience with substance use disorder provide support to others throughout treatment and recovery.
“When we talk about treatment, we are looking at reducing symptoms of addiction,” said Ambi Daniel, family support navigator, with the center. “When we are looking at recovery, we are looking at learning to live and that’s not as simple as knowing what to do; it’s about practice."
And more workers are needed, both in mental health and addiction programs. Ashline said she’s talked to local employers who have trouble finding enough job candidates with the right education and qualifications to fill vacancies in the mental health and substance use fields. They like the sound of CarePath certification, she said.
MHANYS CEO Glenn Liebman said the training fits in with a trend that he’s happy to see. In the past, mental health too often was left in the “distant background” during conversations about health, he said. But the trends in health care and public policy now look at both together, he added.
“You can’t just look at a person,” he said, “and say, ‘We’ve looked at their physical health; they should be OK.”
Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).