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Settlement Will Fund New Mental Health Programs


Crowe & Harris recently helped negotiate a settlement which will provide funding to improve mental health care in western Massachusetts.  The agreement with Berkshire Medical Center (“BMC”) and the Brien Center in Pittsfield provides that BMC will develop an innovative curriculum designed for use by community agencies and individuals nation-wide to better address mental and behavioral health and suicide risk in adolescents and young adults.  The new curriculum will be developed in part to resolve matters with the family of Gregory S. Hillman, who received care from BMC and The Brien Center (“Brien”), also in Pittsfield, in 2009 and who died by apparent suicide.

In addition, BMC and the Brien Center will establish a fund to benefit three or more regional mental health agencies selected by the Hillmans from an agreed-upon list.  Donations from the fund will aid existing programs aimed at youth and young adult mental health care and suicide risk prevention and will further honor Gregory’s memory..

Neither the Hillmans nor the health care providers disclosed the cost of developing the curriculum or the size of the separate fund for donations in Gregory’s memory, but all expect that the efforts will have lasting impact on mental health care for young adults.

Although the Hillmans and the healthcare providers disagree on some of the facts leading up to Gregory’s tragic death, they are in complete accord on the pressing regional and national need for more and better resources, particularly at the community level, to address urgent mental and behavioral health issues and suicide risk in teenagers and young adults. BMC, the Brien Center and the Hillmans believe this resolution, as opposed to continued litigation, most constructively and positively advances their shared goal, as well as honoring Gregory’s memory.

The curriculum for community use will complement one for medical personnel previously developed by BMC’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Significantly, the design and function of the new curriculum will be for free use by community members, including but not limited to parents, teachers, school counselors and nurses, coaches, youth agency leaders, religious and other spiritual groups, police and other social service agency personnel.

The driving themes of the program will be earlier recognition of young people needing mental health understanding and help, including those with possible bipolar signs, raising community consciousness about symptoms needing prompt attention, and making known available resources and follow-up measures for mental health improvement. As the curriculum’s reach potentially will be nation-wide, the specific grants will benefit agencies currently grappling with increasing and increasingly challenging mental health issues in the younger population.

“The Hillmans, like every set of parents who lose a child, have suffered a devastating and incalculable loss and our hearts go out to them,” said David Phelps, president and chief executive officer of Berkshire Health Systems, parent company of BMC.  “We think the best means to honor their son’s memory is to help find ways to raise public consciousness about the need for prompt attention to mental health and potential suicide risk among young people and to try to ease the struggle that hundreds of thousands of young people like Gregory endure each and every year. We deeply respect the Hillman family for sharing that view and seeking its attainment as a goal in their on-going recovery from their awful personal loss.”

M. Christine Macbeth, chief executive officer of The Brien Center, said she “echoed” Mr. Phelps’ observations, and added: “The Brien Center is pleased to participate in making a substantial contribution to expand services for this vulnerable population and to do so in a way that honors Gregory Hillman. I, too, thank his parents for collaborating with us in resolving our differences in ways that are constructive and pro-active at the community level.”

On behalf of the Hillmans, Peter Hillman said: “Our family very much appreciates the spirit and commitment by BMC and Brien to honor Gregory’s memory in a helpful public way, by making positive and important contributions in the care of adolescents and young adults–and their loved ones–who struggle with mental health challenges. We believe the new curriculum for identifying and helping address concerns at the grass-roots levels will become a model of its kind, relied upon by many entities for years. In addition, the pin-point grants get some immediate help to groups contending daily with people needing help and whose lives could be saved.”

He added: “Gregory was full of compassion and generosity, always most concerned about helping others, even when he, himself, needed help. These significant new programs enable his remarkable soul and spirit to keep working for the betterment of others.”

The Hillmans had previously reached an agreement with County Ambulance, described here.

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