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Crestwood Behavioral Health


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The Healing Power of Dogs

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When he first stepped inside Crestwood San Diego he was thin, weak, and frightened. He had patchy hair from malnourishment and poor hygiene. He had been abused and kept in a small space when he was younger, and he was later abandoned by his first family. He had been forced to live on the streets for some time before getting taken in by the “system.” He would sometimes get aggressive with others and he clearly was traumatized by his past in ways that gave him nightmares that made him toss and turn and cry at night. His legs were weakened and arthritic from being confined when he was young, and this caused him to struggle when walking. He was nervous when he first came to Crestwood San Diego, but he was quickly embraced by both the staff and clients. His name is Gifford and he is a six-year old Chow Chow/Golden Retriever mix dog.

Gifford was adopted with another rescued older Chow Chow/Golden Retriever mix, named Enzo, from a high-kill shelter in San Bernardino by two staff members, Meghan O’Barr, a Service Coordinator at Crestwood Chula Vista and Stephen O’Barr, Director of Nursing at Crestwood San Diego.  Enzo’s first owner was a man with mental illness who ended up hospitalized for a long period of time, which then left Enzo to fend for himself on the streets, until he was picked up by the shelter.

Gifford was so scared and traumatized that he didn’t make eye contact at first, but he was ever so grateful for any petting he received. He required a lot of care, rehabilitation, and exercise before he stepped inside the facility as a therapy dog. He was shy at first, but as staff and clients opened up to him and showed him love, he quickly grew to like spending time at Crestwood San Diego and Crestwood Chula Vista. Like Gifford, Enzo had many trust issues.  He would greet people, but also kept his distance for the first month. It took patience, consistency and compassion for Enzo to get past his trust issues, just like many of our Crestwood clients.  Enzo is now the quintessential “Velcro” dog, always staying close to his family, yet with reassurance, is eager to meet new people and give them kisses.

Michael Bargagliotti, the former Administrator of both Crestwood Chula Vista and Crestwood San Diego, who is now the Administrator of the Crestwood Center San Jose campus, was highly supportive of incorporating pets as part of the therapeutic milieu.  Since September 2015, Michael opened the door to allow several staff members to bring their dogs to both facilities, including Service Coordinator, Maida Ferraes, who brings her dog Rocco; Director of Nursing Services, Fabiola Evans, who brings her dog Riley; and Service Coordinator, Jana Cook, who brings her dog Sammy Thomas. All of these dogs were rescued from shelters, have experienced their own trauma and now love their new lives as the dogs of Crestwood.

The dogs add to the feeling of a warm and homelike atmosphere that Crestwood MHRCs strive to create with a living-room milieu. They don’t just bring cuteness, fur and fun to the two programs; they have made connections with some of the clients who suffer from the worst paranoia and anxiety and who often push most people away. Studies have shown that pet therapy helps clients by lessening depression, decreasing feelings of isolation, encouraging communication, providing comfort, increasing socialization, lowering anxiety, and reducing loneliness.  Gifford recently helped a client with suspected sexual abuse to feel safe and comfortable enough so that they could start opening up to the staff. Gifford was also the mascot at the first San Diego vs Chula Vista kickball tournament, and he even makes appearances at IDT meetings so that clients can feel more comfortable in discussions that may be sometimes stressful.

One client coping with manic episodes at Crestwood Chula Vista refers to Rocco as “my boy” and their shared exuberance and energy makes them the best of friends.  Rocco has been instrumental in reducing this client’s symptoms with simple, every day dog activities, such as walks and games of fetch. Like Gifford, Rocco struggled with his relationship with other animals and underwent training with a behavioral therapist, an experience that many clients can relate to. Sammy Thomas, who one of the clients calls, “Jana’s Lamb,” is a gentle boy, who like some of our clients, suffers from a severe medical condition.  Sammy experiences seizures and takes medication daily. Jana and Meghan both use their dogs’ medication needs to help normalize medication management and this helps many of their clients realize that Sammy and Enzo are just like them.

Clients at Crestwood San Diego and Crestwood Chula Vista have watched with delight as love and care have transformed Gifford from a nervous, half-lame dog with patchy fur, into a big, friendly bear with a beautiful, thick coat. The message our clients get is that if Gifford can grow and change, then so can they.  Just as the staff is deeply satisfied by their clients’ growth and successes, the clients have taken great joy in seeing the recovery and resiliency of our Crestwood dogs and know that they are capable of recovery too. Several clients have grown very attached to the dogs and look forward to each of their visits. These amazing dogs have awakened empathy and affection in many of our clients through their unconditioned love and presence. They both share a lot of trauma and suffering in their pasts.  They also share a simple need, which is to be loved and to know that they are not alone and they can give each other that powerful, simple love that makes them both stronger and happier.  That love, togetherness, and understanding are the mainstays of recovery, and are what makes Crestwood so special.

Contributed by: Meghan O’Barr, Service Coordinator
Crestwood Chula Vista
and
Stephen O’Barr, Director of Nursing, Crestwood San Diego


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Zumba’s Spark is Energizing Crestwood

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One of the biggest challenges for both our clients and staff is finding the time and motivation to get adequate exercise. Greg Parnell, the Director of Education and Assistant Program Director at Crestwood Behavioral Health Center Eureka’s campus, has been a licensed Zumba instructor for five years now, and to say he is passionate about Zumba, would be an enormous understatement. He teaches Zumba classes not only for the clients in the Eureka facility, but also in the community at recreation centers and schools.

Zumba was started in the 1990s blending aerobic exercise with infectious Latin dance music. It is now a worldwide phenomenon being done in 180 countries, with more than 15 million students taking classes. What Greg and many others that participate in Zumba have found is that it is an activity that sparks something deep inside your spirit. That spark energizes you, changes your mood, and changes your outlook on life. Not only does Zumba bring about physical changes in you, it brings about mental and spiritual changes as well. Zumba can be a spark that starts with a simple routine of fun exercise, which then progresses into wanting to eat better, feel better, present one’s self better, and be more active in the world.

Crestwood has added Zumba to our Mind, Body, and Spirit Initiative. To get Zumba started in our facilities, Greg, along with Margaret McDonald, Administrator at Crestwood Center at Napa Valley and Crestwood’s Director of Nutritional and Wellness Services, wrote a proposal for a Crestwood Zumba Program that has several components and was geared toward both clients and staff. Their first goal was to get one or two staff members at each facility to be trained as Zumba instructors. These staff members can then teach 3 to 5 classes a week for clients and staff at their facilities. The second component was the purchase of Zumba DVDs that could be used to do additional Zumba classes or while trained staff is away. And the third part was to reach out to local Zumba instructors and develop a mutually beneficial relationship with them, in which they would volunteer their time to do Zumba at our facilities, in exchange for directing staff toward their classes in the community. Greg, as Crestwood’s in-house Zumba resource, will also travel to the facilities quarterly to reinvigorate the programs and troubleshoot any problems.

At the 2015 annual Zumba Convention that was held in Orlando, Florida, Greg shared Crestwood’s proposal for a Zumba program with Alberto Pearlman, the CEO of Zumba, who then shared it with conference Keynote speaker, actress and singer Ashley Judd, who lives her own recovery story of depression and wellness through Zumba. Ms. Judd and Mr. Pearlman were so fascinated by what Crestwood is doing with Zumba that they both decided they wanted to be involved. Mr. Pearlman graciously offered to train Crestwood staff to become licensed Zumba instructors. In November 2015, 11 Crestwood facilities, (Angwin, American River, Sacramento, Pleasant Hill, San Jose, Fresno, Bakersfield, Vallejo, Solano, San Diego, and Chula Vista) sent nineteen staff members to Cheryl Louie’s Studio Z in Newark, California, where they were trained by Joy Smith, a Zumba Education Specialist, to become licensed Zumba instructors.

Since then, Greg and Margaret have been traveling to our facilities helping our licensed Zumba instructors plan their classes, help with choreography, and incorporate classes into program schedules. “The enthusiasm from staff and clients has been overwhelming, and the support from Administrators has been amazing. It is inspiring to see how many of our clients really get into the classes, the music, the movement, and just losing themselves into the rhythms,” said Greg. “There are also stories of amazing transformations of our very quiet and soft-spoken clients who suddenly come alive when the Zumba class starts. They see and feel the energy around them and then want to join in.” And then there are also staff members, who after just one of Greg’s Zumba visits, are then inspired to want to do more, learn more, and become Zumba instructors themselves.

Greg and Margaret hope to measure the success of the program and the influence of Zumba on our clients and staff in several ways. They have developed a pre-survey to be used before Zumba is offered in the facility and a post-survey after Zumba has been added to the program schedule. These surveys will assess the number of days clients exercise, reported enjoyment of exercise, and reported barriers to exercise, such as feeling self-conscious or not enjoying exercise.

When the Zumba program is fully up and running in our Mental Health Rehabilitation Centers, Psychiatric Health Facilities, Adult Residential Facilities, and Social Rehabilitation facilities, they intend to bring Zumba Gold to our Skilled Nursing Facilities. Zumba Gold is a specialized form of Zumba for older adults. “We believe all of our clients and staff, no matter what age or ability level, will benefit physically, emotionally, and spiritually from participating in such an accessible and inspiring form of exercise,” said Margaret. “We also would love to eventually have clients be trained to become Zumba instructors, giving them meaningful roles in the facilities and the potential for employment once they are back in their communities.”

Zumba truly provides that amazing spark to energize the mind, body and spirit of those who experience and embrace it in their lives.

Contributed by:
Margaret M. McDonald, M.S.
Director of Nutrition and Wellness Services
and
Robert Pitts, Campus Administrator
Crestwood Behavioral Health Center Eureka