Ask the ordinary Jamaican what comes to mind when you say the word, Bellevue, and typically they offer references to a ‘madhouse’, or a place where you get a tin of milk in exchange for carrying in a mentally unstable relative.
But the French word actually means ‘beautiful view,’ and that is certainly the approach Bellevue Hospital’s dedicated social workers have adopted when it comes to serving those in their care. They are indeed God’s helpers who work tirelessly towards creating a ‘beautiful life’ for persons living with a mental illness by reconnecting them to their family as well as community and government services.
Now, in celebration of Social Work Month, Family and Faith Magazine in partnership with the Jamaica Broilers Group is pleased to highlight the high calling of the dedicated social workers at Bellevue Hospital.
“I didn’t choose social work, it chose me,” emphasized Mrs. Alleen Smith-Roberts, Medical Social Worker at Bellevue Hospital when asked why she chose the profession, adding that she finds great joy in helping persons with a mental illness to reconnect with their family. “You find that you have lots of persons in our society who are unable to ‘connect’, they are just existing, they are not sure where’s their place and as social workers we help persons to get there,” Mrs. Smith-Roberts explained with conviction.
In addition to ‘finding their place,’ helping clients to secure and maintain employment and access key government services, are other vital goals for social workers. After over twenty-four years in the profession, Barbara McKoy knows quite a bit about human behaviour. She told Family and Faith Magazine that “anyone can become mentally ill; it is not a respecter of persons,” pointing out, for example, that sometimes financial pressure can be traumatic for patients.
“I have a case of a gentleman who was separated from his family. He came into the hospital. He was really a terror to his family. His children didn’t want to have anything to do with him; his wife didn’t want to have anything to do with him because he was so terrible and I was able to assist him with getting his pension and it sort of brought him around because basically his traumatic conditions were brought about by the fact that he doesn’t have the money to spend. So he was really giving everybody a hard time and since he was able to get that pension I haven’t seen him being admitted for a while; he takes his medication, he calls me regularly to keep me updated on what is happening and he seems to be getting on well with his family,” she recounted, smiling.
Aside from providing this type of ongoing support, for the past 3 years during social work month, the Bellevue social workers, treat patients with special Care Packages filled with personal items, toiletries, non-perishable food and The Best Dressed Chicken from the Jamaica Broilers Group. The company’s Group Public Relations Programmes Officer, Danah Cameron, explained why they were happy to partner with the social workers at Bellevue. “To us [the work they do] emulates who Christ is in such a magnificent way, they truly give of themselves, they speak of their patients as if they are speaking of family, they have such a heart, such a warmth towards these people, it really is moving.”
Of course, both patients and social workers are also quite moved by the heartfelt gesture of kindness from their sponsors. “Our patients were more than excited and appreciative to get that extra nugget in their bag, so we thank our sponsors for their help each year and those who came on board with us to make this month an extra special month, not just for us but our patients, because its gives us great joy in giving back,” remarked Mrs. Smith-Roberts.
Senior Social Worker, Jessica Tyghter-Shaw also expressed gratitude to the Jamaica Broilers Group not only for the goodies provided, but also for their heart for community. “We appreciate your assistance, we appreciate you coming out of your offices and coming on the road and interacting with the people and showing that love and genuineness for the people.”
Other notable sponsors that supported the initiative include Jamaica Biscuit Company, Cals, Lasco and Jamaica Baking Company.
In addition to the efforts of social workers and sponsors, family and friends have an important role to play in creating a better, beautiful life for patients. In fact, their support is key to ensuring that persons with mental illness stay well.
“Oftentimes the first thing that happens when somebody has a mental illness is that families are nowhere to be found, friends are nowhere to be found and so it is really them against this whole big wide world. So, I am encouraging persons, still be a part of their lives, they need you, they need us, they need a family, they need a friend, they need persons around them,” insisted Mrs. Tyghter-Shaw.
“A lot of them are out there and they are being treated in such manner they run come back to Bellevue when Bellevue don’t have the space for them. They probably don’t need to be hospitalized but because they are running away from the treatment in their community they come to Bellevue for refuge,” Miss McKoy lamented. Echoing this sentiment, Mrs. Robert-Smith urges communities not to ostracize them. “No man is an island, the more support that individual has, the better. The propensity of them staying well is greater with more support,” she admonished.
When families fail to play their role however, social workers become the extended family for persons living with a mental illness, which of course requires an added measure of grace. It is therefore no surprise that Mrs. Tyghter-Shaw is keen to declare that she gets her strength from God – “He is the great Teacher, He is the one that taught us how to do social work, He is the best social worker,” she declared with passion.
Her faith certainly mirrors the Jamaica Broilers’ motivation for serving the community. “At our core we are a poultry company, we focus on agribusiness, we are vertically integrated. I could talk on and on about that, but what we want Jamaica to know is that the heart; at the core, we believe in Jesus Christ, we believe in His mission, and His mission becomes our mission in terms of how we serve our community. Our partnership with Bellevue Hospital in going out into the community has helped us to exemplify that,” Mrs. Cameron declared.
No doubt the partnership of families, communities and good corporate citizens, will continue to assist Bellevue in creating a more beautiful life for persons living with a mental illness.
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