Written by Tanya Terry
The Courier talked to Dexter Clarke of GHS (Genesee Health System) about our country and community being in mental health crisis, and the ways the “4 Pillars” program is aiming to help. The crisis was brought about by the fact we still dealing with the effects of a pandemic in addition to social, environmental, and emotional stressors that existed pre-COVID and have increased even more so since the pandemic.
According to Dexter Clarke, director of Faith-Based and Community Engagement Initiatives at Genesee Health System, GHS knows that to manage stress, conflict resolution and improve one’s mental health, an individual must develop a healthy and proactive way to manage their behavior and emotions in a productive way.
“’The “4 Pillars’ is a start in our effort to work with groups of people engaging in treatment at a location that is familiar and comfortable,” Clarke said. “The goal is to find out what those stressors/challenges are to provide tools to help them develop non-violent ways to address those issues and improve overall mental health.”
Clarke pointed out issues in Genesee County are the same at those being seen throughout the nation.
“This is why this pilot program is so needed,” he added. “It also is in alignment with our mission statement to ‘improve health and health equity in Genesee County through the provision of high-quality healthcare services and programs in an integrated, patient-centered environment….’”
GHS staff are trained in a myriad of various evidence-based practices to best serve the individuals of whom the organization services at large. These practices include mental health first aid, suicide prevention, implicit bias, cultural competence, crisis interventions, trauma informed care and other practices.
“These tactics are important because we have learned that prevention through education is an important thing to do and gives the GHS staff more tools to assist in any area of human need,” Clarke stated. “Staff provide a listening ear and assist a person to identify what things might be the best fit to help them to address their concerns and reach their goals. If they don’t have goals, we can help a person to gain insight and provide hope. Staff can also provide some basic coping techniques and a place to reach out if they were to find themselves or their families in a crisis later on. Just knowing someone is there for you 24/7 can be immensely powerful. “
Clarke said people in the community, for the most part, trust the church.
“It is where they go for spiritual guidance and direction and to find hope when they don’t see it in the world, in their job or in their home. We realized that in order to be effective and accepted in a community we must collaborate with organizations/groups that people trust. Also, those groups will be honest in telling them whether or not to believe that an outside group can provide something of significant benefit to them. Partnerships help assist an integrated care approach to our community. We are better together. When we collaborate, we bring more diversity of approach to the table of service. We are reach more people of need when we do so.”
The Community Mental Health Millage is the name of the millage through which GHS is able to help fund the program. There are 7 focus areas in the millage: 1) law enforcement/first response CIT mental health response team 2) law enforcement/mental health co response and jail diversion 3) court/corrections mental health supports and services, 4) suicide and crisis prevention 5) schools: prevention and crisis de-escalation 6) crisis center/crisis stabilization 7) health and wellness for vulnerable populations. The funding for the pilot comes from focus number seven (health and wellness for vulnerable populations).
According to Clarke, no cash is given by GHS to or through the church for the services GHS provides. Clarke said there is a small fee GHS pays to each church for the time their staff is onsite to give them access to their facility and provide minimal custodial services.
Some of the more specific goals GHS hopes will be met through the 4 Pillars program include breaking down the barrier and the stigma associated with mental illness and providing a diverse array of services at an equitable level within communities.
“The success of these goals will be driven by the data we obtain-tracking the number of individuals that present at the sites and also raw data on services individuals from the pilot were connected to.”
No personal information will be shared, just the numbers, according to Clarke.
Clarke told the Courier how the four churches were selected for the program.
“The four churches were selected when GHS had conversation with local pastors that expressed, during a news interview/segment, the need for mental health services to be provided within the community in an effort to combat gun violence. During that discussion the pastors were open to having the pilot done in their church.”
GHS did not schedule the news interview to know who was informed. The interview was regarding another topic: gun violence-and mental health was mentioned by Bishop Chris Martin. Clarke said this was the reason GHS CEO Danis Russell reached out to Bishop Martin by phone to discuss a potential pilot program.
Not every church that provides mental health services is participating in the program. For example, St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church on Dupont Street has been providing mental health services.
GHS was waiting for St. Mark to review the MOU and inform them if they were moving forward to participate. As of this week, St. Mark has stated that they will not participate at this time.
Dr. Tiffany Quinn is a missionary at Bountiful Love Ministries Church of God in Christ on W. Pasadena Avenue. She is also a community life coach and master social worker, as well as a consultant. She prefers to call services she offers as a “safe spaces.”
“I have access to over 700 social workers in the social work network,” Quinn said. “I know many therapists and coaches and I’m able to, in many cases, match people with a therapist or a coach so that they’ll make progress.”
Quinn stated the mental health care industry has some gaps, and social workers are on the ground working trying to help bridge the gaps between faith and mental health.
“It takes a lot of work to heal; it’s going to take patience; it’s going to take us building the passion and empathy,” she added.
Quinn also stated she would like to see mobile mental health booths throughout the city for mental health at places besides churches because she said some people will not set foot in a church because of the stigma associated with it.
GHS is looking at eventually expanding it to all areas in Genesee County.
“This program will be offered to not only faith-based organizations, but to organizations that are trying improve the community as a whole. We believe that our services are for everyone regardless of their beliefs (or non-beliefs), race, age, sexual orientation, social status or political affiliation. Once we review and assess the data and examine what changes were or will need to be made we will have a better idea of when and how to proceed with the expansion.”
Bishop Chris Martin was reached out to for comment about the program but was unavailable by press time.
The 4 Pillars program is a collaboration between Genesee Health System, Cathedral of Faith Church, Grace Emmanuel Baptist Church, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church and Salem Lutheran Church. along with the City of Flint.