Health & Human Services Day

Health & Human Services Day

Unspoken Health Issues – It’s time to talk about it
Where can you get help? How can you give help?

June 8th, 2016

By Design Team Member, Marty Byrne

It must have been all of the excitement surrounding Leadership Greater Syracuse’s very first Health & Human Services Day which caused us to be whisked away on a “gurney ride” in the early morning hours on June 8th, 2016. Our day of experiencing the unspoken health issues had begun in the blink of an eye. Before we knew it, we had arrived at our first destination – SUNY Upstate’s EM-STAT Center.

Upon arrival to EM-STAT, we were introduced to our first guest speaker of the day, Dr. Laraque-Arena, MD, FAAP, President, SUNY Upstate Medical University. Dr. Laraque-Arena commended our class on our willingness to step into leadership roles and make a difference in our community. She provided us with a very realistic view on leadership and she warned us that issues are never solved overnight. She encouraged us to stay focused as real change requires persistence. Dr. Laraque-Arena also stressed the importance of relationships – this piece of advice would prove to be a central theme throughout the day.

The next part of our day saw our class split into two groups. Our Inpatient group would experience a simulated emergency medical situation involving a drug overdose while our outpatient group would learn about Mental Health First Aid. Then the two groups would switch.  The simulation allowed our class to experience the effects of an overdose first hand. We were also able to meet many of the emergency first responders, hospital emergency department staff, and social workers who deal with these situations on a daily basis. After the switch, Dr. Hilary Gamble, M.D. challenged us to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness. We participated in a brief activity which gave us some insight into how difficult it can be to have a normal conversation while hearing voices in our head.

After a brief intermission, a panel discussion was held allowing our classmates to ask questions to each health care professional who took part in the morning activities. First responders talked about working as a team to keep each other safe and collect as much information as possible about a patient before arriving to the hospital. Hospital emergency staff spoke about treating drug overdoses in the ER and the challenges with literally bringing someone back to life only to have them want to be released to go use drugs again. Social workers educated us on their role as the families of the addicted person often do not know how to handle their loved one’s addiction. Mental health professionals talked to us about the importance of listening. Often times a person will turn to drugs or alcohol because they don’t have a support system around them. Just being there and listening to someone can have a tremendous effect.

After our panel discussion we were travelling to our next destination, The Rescue Mission of Syracuse, to experience the Human Services portion of our day. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Alan Thornton, Chief Operations Officer. Alan told us some personal stories and why he has so much passion for the mission of the Rescue Mission. He also educated us about all the services the Rescue Mission offers. After Allen spoke, we were treated to lunch in the Rescue Mission’s soup kitchen. The meal gave us a chance to experience a typical lunch at the Mission.

The afternoon sessions kicked off with a tour of the Rescue Mission campus. We broke up in our groups for the day and were able to experience everything the Rescue Mission has to offer including the soup kitchen, the Thrifty Shopper store, and the shelter. After our tour, we were again split into groups to take part in a volunteer activity. The groups landscaped, worked in the Thrifty Shopper and volunteered in the mailroom. This was truly a rewarding experience and a way for us to give back in some way to our community.

Following our volunteer activity, we headed back in doors for another panel discussion. Our afternoon panel was comprised of members of various human service organizations and not-for-profits. Members of this panel spoke about what they see daily as they struggle with addiction alongside families. One member of the panel told us the waiting list to receive treatment for Heroin is extensive and pregnant women move to the top of the list. We learned that while addiction does not discriminate, it seems to affect the least wealthy communities. Our panel members urged us to get involved with organizations like theirs as each one is desperate for energetic volunteers.

Throughout the day, we had heard various professional opinions point out the correlation between addiction and poverty. To further illustrate the challenges of living on a lower income, we asked our classmates to complete a “walk in my shoes” activity. To start the activity, we would split into groups. Each group would begin with $990 with the challenge of ending the month with enough money to pay rent. Throughout the course of the activity, life would throw various curveballs such as a broken down car, a sick pet, or even a difficult homework assignment. As the month progressed, it became evident how much each group depended on pay day. Tough decisions and sacrifices had to be made in order to budget for basic needs. Many of our classmates would smile as they indicated how stressful the activity was. It was very humbling to complete this activity and know that it wasn’t real life. For many of the people needing the Rescue Mission, this isn’t the case.

To close our day, we were officially discharged. After a full day of bringing to light some of the unspoken health issues which plague our community, we were now armed and prepared to continue the conversations with our families, friends, and our co-workers.