New Castle News

October 5, 2013

Human Services marks 50 years

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It’s a celebration that’s been 50 years in the making.

The Human Services Center, which annually provides behavioral health services to more than 3,500 people in and around Lawrence County, will toast to its Golden Jubilee during a gala dinner Wednesday at the New Englander Banquet Facility.

The event will spotlight the role of recovery and hope in transforming people’s lives.

The featured speaker is Susannah Cahalan, author of “Brain on Fire,” detailing the author’s experiences with a month-long illness that caused seizures, paranoia and psychosis. She also will be selling and signing copies of her memoir. Susan Brozek Scott, an award-winning local television personality, will serve as master of ceremonies.

“It’s a great opportunity to thank our employees and our boards for all that they do,” said Dr. Dennis Nebel, executive director, who has been with the center for 35 of its 50 years. He began with Human Services in 1978 as a clinical psychologist.

The Human Services Center is the region’s largest provider of outpatient mental health services.

Clinical programs and staff members treat a variety of mental health and relationship problems. These include anxiety, depression, marital difficulties and child-rearing problems as well as more serious problems such as the hallucinations and delusions that often accompany schizophrenia. Services are provided by highly qualified and licensed professionals that include psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, case managers and counselors.

The center has a number of locations throughout Lawrence County, including its administrative offices at 130 W. North St.

The program came into being in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act, providing federal funding for the creation of community mental health services. It was the final piece of legislation that he signed before being assassinated.

That same year, the Lawrence County Mental Health Clinic was incorporated as a provider of outpatient mental health services; located on the second floor of a storefront in New Castle, the center started with a staff of just six clinicians.

In the 50 years since, the clinic has undergone a name change to the Human Services Center; moved its headquarters to a stand-alone building on West North Street; expanded its clientele to cover children, adolescents, families and adults facing a variety of mental health issues; and grown its programming to include a wide range of clinical, residential, employment and school-based services. With a staff of approximately 200 people, an annual budget of nearly $12 million, and an active client caseload of almost 4,000 people, the center has become one of the larger community mental health centers in western Pennsylvania.

Human Services has opened a variety of housing options for clients, including the region’s first Fairweather Lodge; permanent supported housing in rural areas, such as Caritas, Edgewood and Westfield properties; and the renovation of blighted structures on Grant Street into fully functional living units, offices and a drop-in center. The latter won the National Award of Excellence and Program Innovation the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials for the Grant Street Project.

“Many suffer quietly,” Nebel said. “Many people won’t seek help because of the stigma of being treated for a mental illness. People needs to understand that statistics show that 50 percent of Americans will experience at least one mental problem in their lifetimes, ranging from mild anxiety and depression to bipolar and schizophrenia.

“If a person is on the right medication with counseling and support, they can have a high quality of life,” Nebel said. “Without care, some might be on the street, living under a bridge.”

Nebel points out that Human Services is not a government agency, but a private, not-for-profit organization that has government contracts. Nebel said Human Services had $400,000 cut from its budget last year. Through attrition, it has eliminated 25 positions in the last five years.

“We’re in the life and death business,” Nebel said. “We have brought people back from the brink of suicide.”

And those successes are certainly worth celebrating.

(Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)