Job program aimed at people with mental illness

July 06, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARYLAND -- A new initiative aims to place more low-income people with mental illness into jobs in Maryland.

The three-year pilot program is being tried at eight vocational rehabilitation sites, including one that Way Station Inc., a nonprofit organization, runs in Hagerstown.

Until now, the conventional wisdom has been to wait for mental illness symptoms to subside before letting people get public jobs, said Scott Rose, Way Station's president.

Under a more modern philosophy, people with mental illness can work in the community if they want to, with accommodations.

Rose said jobs often have a medicinal value.

"Work can create psychiatric stability in and of itself," he said.

The program could lead to about $1 million less in hospital care per year, he added.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., announced that she will push for federal funding to help the work-force program, which is expected to cost $9 million over three years.


Two Maryland state agencies have committed 72 percent. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation has pledged another 20 percent, contingent on a match for the remaining 8 percent.

Mikulski is asking for that 8 percent, or $725,000, in the fiscal year 2010 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education funding bill, according to a news release her office issued. The Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the bill this month before sending it to the full Senate for a vote, the news release says.

Nationwide, 10 percent to 15 percent of people with mental illness have jobs, 23 percent if they get vocational training, Rose said.

Under an "evidence-based" system that encourages people to work in the community and gives them on-the-job support, the percentage is about 60, Rose said.

The Maryland pilot program is shooting for 75 percent employment by customizing jobs to fit people's capabilities; gradually -- not suddenly -- reducing government assistance to people who work; and finding ways people can be self-employed.

Way Station and three other nonprofit Sheppard Pratt Health System affiliates will administer the program at eight locations.

Rose said they hope to help about 500 people during the pilot program.

Since the project started about a year ago, 68 people in Hagerstown have participated, according to Rose.

He said many businesses in the Hagerstown area are involved, including Martin's grocery stores, Burger King, Food Lion, Arby's, Jiffy Lube, McDonald's, Kohl's, Subway, Walmart, Best Buy, Friendly's, Pizza Hut and The Plamondon Cos., which operate hotels and Roy Rogers restaurants.

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