Sunday, January 23, 2011

Powerful Impact People: Barry Kazats

He embodies the term “bridges” and I am more than a little in awe as I interview this CEO and President of Bridges in Milford.  Barry Kasdan guides this nonprofit in providing a comprehensive range of outpatient mental health, addiction, community support and home-based services for children, families and adults, residing in Milford, Orange, West Haven and their surrounding communities.

Their slogan, Bridges is where the community turns for help, hope and recovery, is not just a phrase on the website for him.  His day started with caring for his own young granddaughter, and then quickly kicked into high gear. It was being available and caring for people, that drew him to field of social work and his role as CEO with Bridges in 1984. 

He came to Bridges because had done a lot of clinical work and his forte was looking at services and systems and how to grow them to benefit people.  Back in 1984 the agency was called the Milford Mental health clinic and had children services but was struggling to deal with a growing population of adults. To say that Barry is involved in many program services development projects and in taking on leadership at the state level is an understatement.

Monday he traveled to Harford for 9am meeting. Appointed by Senator Gayle Slossberg to the commission for nonprofit health and human services, he is working with this committee to take a look at the health/human services benefits that it offers the state and community.  The report will get turned over to the new governor with recommendations to serve more people and do it in a more cost effective way. Essentially becoming the “bridge” from the committee to the government, to the community.

“Early in my career, if I was dissatisfied with services I realized I had to get involved in policy, budget and legislation. So three days a week I usually start someplace out of the office like New Haven or Hartford in meetings. Given the nature of funding, I interface at those levels a lot.” 

Back at the office he meets with a number of his senior management staff. He has a total of seven senior managers and 160 staff members with a site in Orange, two sites in Milford and two in West Haven.  With a $12.5 million budget, 80% is funded by state and federal money. “At our meetings we go over budgeting, systems, new grants, issues about services that need to be addressed, all focusing on how to coordinate all the services we offer here.”  Bridging the gap from funding to implementation.

Bridges has strong local support from United Way, the city, and other local sources and they generate fees to cover the rest. Often Mr. Kasdan’s days are filled with policy type meetings for at least a dozen different departments or subdivisions of the program.  “We can’t operate them as separate entities.  How do you integrate all this together so that when a client walks through the front door it’s a seamless process for them? So they don’t get juggled around?. It’s a continuous challenge that takes a lot of my time.  I sort of transpose that type of an approach to ‘how to we do that at a state level?’” 

The state funds them to provide treatment and community support services.  By putting this structure in place, Connecticut was able to shut down state hospital years ago. “We were keeping people there, not because they needed to be there, but because we didn’t have the community services to bring them home. We started planning this and money started flowing from the state to establish the community systems.  Connecticut was in the forefront to set up a nation system.” And Barry was one of the advocates for all this. 

“Now, today, the budgets are difficult. The economy is in bad shape.  The questions policy makers are grappling with is ‘do you cut services like this and have people end up back in hospitals or do you think long term?’”

Founded in 1957 by a group of concerned citizens in Milford, Bridges now provides services to approximately 5,000 people annually at sites in Milford, Orange and West Haven. “Why we are here?  To help people we serve to lead healthy and productive lives. In fact their recovery-focused services include evaluation, counseling, and treatment, which are available to adults, children, adolescents and families “As an agency we have 5000 people a year who pass thru our doors.” Some need an assessment while others need ongoing treatment and support services. Their open caseload is usually 1500 people.

In the last 18 months they’ve had over half million in cuts and they’re waiting anxiously to see what happens with the new administration in Hartford and in how they will deal with the budget.  For all nonprofits creative fund raising ideas are important and since there is often a stigma attached to mental health issues Barry lights up as he talks about their own events like Folks on Spokes in it’s 19th year.  “I was sitting at a board meeting years ago and we came up with a community event that would be fun and help take the stigma off the mental health services. Let’s have something where we can bring the community together for a good cause”.  This year over 500 folks participate and they raised 30 thousand. More important is the statement that the community makes for all the folks who use our services.”

For the first time in May they had a Do wop concert with Kenny Vance. While normally hosting a big annual event, they realized that the economy is in bad shape and wanted to make it fun and affordable.  “We filled the Parsons with 900 people. It speaks so loudly about the community and the support.  We raised money but more that that, it raised the spirits and the moral. Which is so important. Our board did that. We have a wonderful board and a wonderful staff. There’s not a meeting I sit down at where someone doesn’t come up with a new idea. I love to foster out of the box ideas.”

I must admit to feeling that this one column isn’t enough space to report on the many groups, services and meetings that Barry attends and advocates for, many times at the state and national levels. They received two federal grants this year. One is for a new initiative “Tobacco cessation” a statewide program, and the other concerns the integration of primary health care into behavior health care. They are one of 13 systems in the country to get these grants. “ We did some renovations and built into our sites, medical exam rooms to provide primary health care to our adult patients. Many of them never had this type of access. Our hope is to eventually meet the goals that we have for them in dealing with problems so they can be on their own and more independent.” For folks who have a challenge in meeting life’s challenges, expanding the view of what people need without so many barriers is a model that works and that is community based.
“How do I see myself? As a CEO, a supervisor, an orchestra leader, as someone who helps people to coordinate the seamless system, a change agent, a motivator, a health care reformer, a team player.”  Notice what all these titles have in common?

I think “Bridge” is a term that applies nicely as well. 

To learn more about Bridges, vist

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