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Washington County Health Dept. workers help Md. win award

November 07, 2008|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- When the State of Maryland received the H.O.P.E. Award's State Commendation in July for its statewide T.A.M.A.R. program, it was thanks to the work of people like David Washington, Bonnie Beachley and Katie O'Neil.

All three are employed by the Washington County Health Departments' Division of Addictions and Mental Health. Washington and Beachley implement the program at Washington County Detention Center, while O'Neil works with released inmates in the Health Department office.

Washington accepted the award for the state for "State Trauma-Informed Care Leadership" at the Dare to Transform conference in Washington, D.C.

"We were honored. There are so many models out there," Washington said. "To be recognized by this group -- these are our peers."

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H.O.P.E. stands for Healing Ourselves through Promises of Empowerment. T.A.M.A.R. stands for Trauma, Addictions, Mental Health and Recovery, a program in eight detention centers and one state hospital.

The purpose of the T.A.M.A.R. program is to educate and treat people who have been abused, physically and/or sexually, with a recent treatment history for a mental health condition, as well as those who abuse alcohol or drugs or have an abuse disorder.

Washington and O'Neil are social workers and Beachley is an addictions counselor. All three lead weekly group sessions to help people deal with the emotions of trauma.

A measurable goal is to reduce the recidivism rate at correctional facilities. Harder to measure is determining whether they've been able to help those they work with to move away from defensive responses.

"You can see changes -- ladies who don't return to an abusive situation, who don't return to a situation that they once thought was normal," Beachley said.

"One thing we see at the jail is an inability to regulate anger if trauma survivors have been violated," Washington said.

They work to help people learn how to manage these emotions.

O'Neil provides an ongoing voluntary program for those who have been released from jail.

"I think it's nice it's voluntary because they're sitting there because they want to work on things," she said.

The T.A.M.A.R. program provides a "one-stop shop" for those with mental health issues, addictions and a history of domestic violence.

The program, funding for which will continue through fiscal year 2009, was developed in response to the findings of the Phoenix Project in 1997. It studied why women who had endured sexual abuse, physical abuse, homelessness and neglect, and were to some extent untreated, were being incarcerated.

T.A.M.A.R. began in Maryland in 1998 and in 2000 in Washington County, the first site that included programs for both women and men. It was initially funded by the federal government, but the state began funding the program when it was proved that it reduced recidivism rates, Washington said.

Washington has spoken about the T.A.M.A.R. program at events around the United States, from the American Psychological Association conference in San Francisco to an Arapaho tribe in Larder, Wyo., as a consult for the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

Washington credits the Washington County Detention Center staff for the impact the program is having. The staff makes sure inmates know about the program and that they get to meetings, he said.

Washington, who has a master's degree in social work, joined the Washington County Health Department in 1999.

Beachley has worked in the human services field for 40 years and has worked for the Council on Alcoholism and earned an M.B.A. before taking a job at the Health Department in 2004.

With a master's in social work, O'Neil has worked in the field for eight years, joining the department in 2003.

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