By Sally McMahon
Efforts to improve health in the United States have traditionally looked to the healthcare system as the key driver of health and health outcomes. While this is certainly important, research has shown that broader approaches addressing socioeconomic status, education, the physical environment, employment and social support networks also impact population health and health equity.
Different agencies in our state, such as Wellspring, have been working to address one social determinant—employment–through a program called Wellspring Works. Wellspring, based in Louisville, Ky. offers supportive housing for adults with severe and persistent psychiatric illnesses.
We talked with Nancy Doctor, development director, Ericha Winters, supervisor and Kevin Dixon, service provider, about the program. Highlights are below.
Medical News: What is Wellspring Works and how does it support employment for your clients?
Nancy Doctor: Wellspring Works is an Individual Placement and Support (IPS) supported employment program, which follows the Dartmouth Supported Employment Program model. IPS supported employment helps people living with behavioral health conditions work at regular jobs of their choosing.
Although variations of supported employment exist, IPS refers to the evidenced-based practice of supported employment, with mainstream education and technical training included as ways to advance career paths.
MN: Why was it important for Wellspring to develop and implement this program?
ND: Research shows that 60-70 percent of people with serious mental illness want to work. However, fewer than 15 percent of these individuals are employed. The World Health Organization has identified the social determinants of health as being the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age – and site the social determinants of health as being mostly responsible for heath inequalities. The Rio Political Declaration, endorsed by WHO Member States at the 65th World Health Assembly ranked the need to “further reorient the health sector towards promoting health and reducing health inequities” as its third highest priority. IPS works directly to address that goal.
Following the Dartmouth model, the evidence-based approach helps people with serious mental illness find and keep regular jobs in their communities. Participation in an IPS supported employment program helps individuals become more self-sufficient, increases self-esteem and boosts morale. The IPS model promotes wellness and recovery, recognizing that employment and recovery go hand-in-hand.
MN: Can you share an example of success – a client who has benefitted from the program?
Ericha Winters: Yes. Nathanial’s life has taken a big upward turn since he connected to Wellspring. After getting settled in, Nathanial decided he wanted a job and reached out to the Wellspring Works staff for guidance and support. We helped Nate identify his skills and figure out what kind of jobs would best suit him. Before long, the neighborhood Kroger brought him on board.
MN: What has been the most rewarding part of helping Nathanial?
Kevin Dixon: I enjoy seeing Nate set goals for himself and work to attain them. Seeing Nate integrate himself back into the community, working and exploring ways he can grow his skills and find new roles that satisfy him are just what we hope for. Nate’s figuring it out, and it’s great, helping him find his own way.