Guy Kerr and Rich Stone spent many years advocating for a respite care facility in Nevada County. They envisioned a nurturing, home-like setting where people with mental health challenges — who are not a danger to themselves or others — could go temporarily instead of the ER or hospital.
In July 2015, the Insight Respite Center finally opened in Grass Valley, thanks to three collaborating partners — Nevada County Behavioral Health, Turning Point Community Programs and Spirit Empowerment Center — and a three-year state grant from the Mental Health Wellness Act of 2013.
One year later, guests, staff and various oversight committees all agree that the innovative, peer-run model has exceeded expectations.
“This first year has been extremely challenging but gratifying,” said program director Joy Nocerino. “I had zero expectations because it was all so new. But this has definitely surpassed what I envisioned. It’s just so relaxing here, it feels like home.”
In June, four members of the state Mental Health Services Act Oversight and Accountability Committee conducted a site visit to Nevada County Behavioral Health for the purpose of reviewing three programs that receive funds from MHSA. They toured the Insight Respite Center and committee members met with staff and “consumers.”
The committee came away impressed with the “great continuum of care” and how Nevada County has fulfilled the MHSA goal of making services “warm and welcoming with no wrong door.”
The glowing evaluation bodes well for future funding, said Nocerino, who is cautiously optimistic.
Guests can stay in the four-bedroom home anywhere from a few days to two weeks. The peer-centered program is designed to help guests focus on their personal strengths, strive to gain emotional stability, balance and resilience within their lives, as they work with others toward their recovery.
The Insight Respite Center’s leadership, consisting mostly of “peer support specialists,” is a critical element to the success of the program, said Kerr, who now works as a consultant and leads “peer reflection” meetings at the center. Peers, who comprise 87 percent of the staff, are defined as someone who has received psychiatric services in the past for mental illness, or has lived with a family member with such experiences.
Having peers in advisory positions helps to dispel the myth that those with mental health challenges are weaker individuals, Kerr added. The goal is to have guests “bounce back” — to be able to go back out into the community with new tools and support. If you can bypass the whole hospital system, you’re helping the individual, he asserts.
Fostering self-esteem and self-respect is a key part of the center’s mission, as is a close relationship with the mental health system. Training for staff members is ongoing.
Potential guests can be referred to the Insight Respite Center by mental health professionals, primary care physicians, friends, family members or one’s self. If a candidate is deemed eligible, he or she will be welcomed by a peer into the center.
Food, lodging and toiletries are free, with nightly communal dinners. Peer supporters are available 24 hours a day, and guests are encouraged to develop their own “Wellness Recovery Action Plan” to help with personal recovery goals.
Examples of optional daily activities include gardening, guided meditation, outdoor physical activities, journaling, reading and yoga.
According to Nocerino, Insight Respite Center served a total of 81 guests between July 2015 and June 2016, with most ranging in age from 26 to 59. With a goal of linking guests to community resources upon discharge, many guests reported having new tools to help themselves when they begin to feel triggered. After their stay, which averaged 11 days, guests gave services an average satisfaction rate of 92 percent. Data showed a 57 percent decrease in clients with hospitalizations (some of which were repeats) and a 41 percent decrease in total hospitalizations.
A tree of letters written by guests is prominently displayed in the hall, just off the kitchen of the center.
“Thank you all so much for the special care I have received there at Respite,” wrote one guest. “Thanks all the talks, meals, laughter and insight. I leave here a totally different person than when I walked through the door.”
“I came here filled with anxiety, shut down and worn out,” wrote another guest. “This facility offered me comfortable quarters and friends to connect to (staff as well as peers). I felt like a butterfly coming out of my cocoon. Suddenly I was doing my art, sharing my truth, communicating from the heart with others and regaining my mental and emotional health. Thank you to those who held the vision of my recovery.”
The residential, peer-centered model is starting to catch on and bloom, said Kerr, who estimated there were roughly 30 peer-run houses now around the country, each with their own structure. But the Insight Respite Center has served as a model for others that are just getting off the ground, he said.
“This is respite as opposed to a hospital,” he said. “It’s a humane alternative — not a home or a hospital. It’s way above either. Just knowing there’s a safety net in our community can make a huge different for many.”
“What we’re doing here, it’s working,” said Nocerino. “Many people have said they didn’t even know we existed — that they can come here instead of going to the hospital. We’ve had guests who have wanted to come back and apply to be peer support specialists. Just the simple act of believing in someone — that alone is empowering.”
For more information on the Insight Respite Center, visit https://www.tpcp.org/programs/insight-respite-center-irc/ or contact Nevada County Behavioral Health at 530-265-1437.
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email Cory@theunion.com.