With addiction, brain injury and mental health issues on the rise, a trio of Arizona agencies are doing their part to give families hope and help them heal
With a focus on the health and well-being of struggling Arizona families, Red Mountain Behavioral Health Services in Gilbert has proven to be a lifeline. Founded by a husband and wife, Randy and Robin Kinsel, more than 15 years ago, Red Mountain offers “community-based, family-focused, and culturally sensitive” treatment services to Arizona families and individuals—most of them Native American tribal families.
Red Mountain’s history, like many other helping organizations, is based in passionate commitment to a cause. When the Kinsels first moved to Arizona from Florida in 2000, Randy Kinsel began working at an orphanage, providing behavioral health services for the young residents. Through this work, and by observing a real need to help broken families, the couple leveraged their increasing experience to open Red Mountain Respite, a facility that offered weekend breaks for high-needs families.
“In the beginning, our idea to strengthen families was simple,” Kinsel emphasizes. “It’s now our mission and it’s changed very little since then.”
Kinsel says the focus of his therapeutic counseling at that time was on single parents, usually female, living below the poverty line with kids who were out of control. “It’s not a situation where the kids could ever be very successful,” he explains.
The Respite provided a comfortable location where these children could spend a weekend away from their usual (and often toxic) environments, in an atmosphere focused on support and reinforcement.
“We just wanted to give them a little bit of hope in their lives,” Kinsel says.
Over the years, the Kinsels saw an overwhelming need for a continuation of clinical, wellness and other services for children in crisis who reached their late teens and were essentially “released cold turkey” into their communities.
“You’re talking about kids that have no jobs, no families, no education or money—nothing,” he says. “A lot of them end up on street corners with a couple of plastic bags for their belongings. It’s a recipe for failure, so I asked myself, ‘What can I do to help keep families together?’”
That early model for family and individual support has grown into Red Mountain Behavioral Health Services, a multi-faceted, highly professional and streamlined facility with a staff of 85 who provide a variety of therapeutic and wellness services for upwards of 380 families and 650 clients annually. The centerpiece of the Kinsels’ operation is their Building Healthy Families program, a unique, multi-phased approach that focuses on family preservation and reunification.
“The program provides families the opportunity to work on their individual and family goals in a therapeutic, supportive environment,” says Kinsel.
Many of the program participants spend a weekend or longer in a number of Red Mountain-owned and maintained residential “wellness homes” scattered throughout the community, where highly trained counselors and other mental health professionals work to offer a supportive environment that these family members need.
Partly by virtue of Red Mountain’s location, much of the Kinsels’ work has almost exclusively been focused on Native American tribal families.
“We work with three local Arizona tribes right now,” Kinsel says, adding that Native American families present a whole host of unique and highly sensitive cultural issues regarding their treatment.
“The one thing we’re always conscious of is to keep our Native American families’ and clients’ ethnic and racial identities intact. We’re not trying to convert their cultural identities and turn them into something else—the goal here is to support them in their own societies—everyone should have the right to their own identities and their own pursuit of happiness.”
To say that traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death and disability among children and young adults in the U.S. is almost an understatement. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, each year an estimated 1.5 million Americans sustain a TBI, resulting in 50,000 deaths. But of those who survive their injuries, approximately 80,000 to 90,000 of them experience the onset of long-term disability.
In fact, as the cumulative result of past traumatic brain injuries, an estimated 5.3 million men, women and children today are survivors, living with a permanent TBI-related disability in the U.S.
One Arizona-based organization dedicated to helping those survivors is the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAA). With executive director Carrie Collins-Fadell at the helm, the BIAA is headquartered in downtown Phoenix and serves the entire state. It was founded in 1983 as the Head Injury Association by a group of concerned parents whose children had suffered some form of brain injury.
“They banded together and began networking to locate the best doctors, the best community resources, etc., to try and help each other live life as best they could following a brain injury in their families,” Collins-Fadell explains. Living well after a brain injury is the overarching goal of BIAA, which helps upwards of 3,000 victims of brain injury and their families every year, she explains.
“We’re also a resource for professionals—physical and occupational therapists, ER nurses and police officers—people who, in the course of their jobs, encounter individuals with brain injuries and want to know how best to help them,” she says.
Because of changes in hospitalization time for head injury patients, Collins-Fadell says the organization does things traditionally done in a hospital setting.
“We have some clients right now who’ve had cranioplasties—wherein a part of their skull is literally cut away—and they’re sent home 24 to 48 hours after surgery,” she says. “Our medical system is completely different than it once was [regarding length of hospitalization], so we are doing things that would have been done in the hospital years ago, and, in many cases, we end up helping them for their entire lives.”
Although the BIAA doesn’t provide direct treatment at their facility, Collins-Fadell says people are encouraged to walk in to discuss their health issues.
“They can also go online or social media, call or reach out to us. We do referrals and we do some education programs,” she explains. “Let’s say you’re newly brain-injured and you need to find a specialist you’ve never even known about before. Say, for instance, a ‘bilingual neuro-ophthalmologist in Tucson.’ We have a vetted database we go through multiple times a year to make sure the contact is still a good one. We can get our clients to the right place in one phone call, and they aren’t lost in the system.”
Collins-Fadell and her team also do outreach training in the community, working with police and fire departments, and domestic violence centers to help keep those professionals up-to-date on behavioral methodologies and treatment resources. There’s a much greater awareness today of the importance of taking care of people’s brains, Collins-Fadell says.
“We’ve seen that just in the last two years, in fact. I still think we have a long way to go in our understanding and treatment of brain injuries, but public awareness is changing, and we’re making progress.”
Collins-Fadell says that although BIAA serves just 3,000 people a year, they know at least 50,000 people a year go the ER to treat head injuries, and that includes an increasing number of our military veterans who’ve suffered some form of head or brain injury.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” she says. “There’s a long way to go here in Arizona and everywhere else, for that matter.”
On the Mark
It should come as no surprise that drug and alcohol addictions are reaching epidemic levels in the U.S., or that the need for effective treatment of these conditions grows ever more critical. That’s why, each year, for more than 400 individuals and families in the greater Tucson area, John Leggio’s programs have become a lifeline.
Leggio, a licensed psychologist, founded The Mark Youth & Family Care Campus in 1987, with a mission to treat people of all ages who suffer from myriad of addiction-related problems.
“It’s a whole range of things,” Leggio says. “In addition to alcoholism and opiate addiction, it extends to stimulant dependence—including methamphetamine and Adderall among others—to cocaine dependence. We also treat cannabis dependence because, these days, marijuana is tremendously stronger than it was, say, in the 1960s or ’70s. If kids begin smoking the stuff that’s out there today when they’re really young, it doesn’t seem like they’re capable any more of growing out of it—rather, they grow into it.”
With drug and alcohol use on an alarming upswing, Leggio says, The Mark exists to provide support, education and family healing for people with addiction problems. Under his guidance, the facility provides intensive out-patient treatment in two distinct programs for adolescents and adults.
His calling to this demanding line of work began more than 30 years ago, when he was first working as a psychologist.
“What I saw when I first [began working in this field] were people getting out of treatment programs and relapsing like crazy,” Leggio says. “If they were treated intensively for, let’s say, three days, and they were stable when they were released from treatment, 98 percent of them went back to drinking or drug use.”
It occurred to Leggio that the sufferers of these addictions and their families needed intensive and ongoing support to help get them reoriented into their communities. With its focus on Tucson and its near environs, The Mark, with a staff of just six or seven, works on several levels to aid in their clients’ recoveries.
“In addition to direct programs, we do a lot of community education,” Leggio says. “I go to high schools and talk to the faculty, and I actually help train a lot of local physicians. Some of these people in the community know about addiction, but most of them don’t.”
Leggio is quick to point out that The Mark’s services aren’t focused exclusively on the drugs that people use and are addicted to; it’s also about other aspects of their lives.
“It could be stress, bad relationships, a way of thinking that creates anxiety and depression. They’re all related and can lead to drug use and addiction. What it calls for is a combination of education and therapy,” he explains.
The Mark’s nine-month program begins with an intensive phase, during which clients come in for therapy and treatment three times a week. That’s followed by an aftercare phase, where they come in less often for the remaining six months.
“It’s difficult work and hard to keep up with the changes, both societally and with the nature of the addictive materials themselves—for example, opioids,” Leggio says.
“But, we learn as we go. Times change and the whole family system changes with it. Once upon a time, it was more the case of the traditional family that we were dealing with, but that’s not too common any more. Divorced, blended, one-parent families…that’s the norm today and we’ve had to change with it.”
Story by Bruce Farr
Photography by Mark Lipczynski