A typical day for Bethel alum Leah Lancaster involves paperwork when she audits resident and employee charts to be sure all documents are in place. It would also include coordinating care with surrounding hospitals to assess patients for group home placement. During that same day, she might be holding or conducting meetings with her company’s mental health centers to help staff members problem solve and coordinate care. Furthermore, she is on call during the day to all five of the managers of the group homes for which she holds responsibility.
“Problems and issues arise randomly during most days,” Lancaster said, “and the managers and I work to find solutions to those issues.”
Combine all these duties with working with insurance companies on behalf of residents and conducting inspections of her company’s group homes, and one gets a good glimpse of Lancaster’s job as Deputy Chief Operations Officer for Mid South Health Net.
Established in 2001, Mid-South HealthNet is a supervised group home setting for individuals enduring severe and persistent mental illness. The organization provides therapeutic psycho-social rehabilitation groups, community outings, medication management, as well as individual therapy. MSHN also offers enhanced and medically fragile housing services to those individuals who have complex behavioral issues and/or medical issues in addition to mental illness. These services include treatment and nursing and/or physician professionals. MSHN is not just a group home. Instead, it is a full service supportive living program.
“In a nutshell, I supervise four group homes in the south east region of Memphis, and I was recently put over our newest group home, Savannah House in Bolivar, Tenn.,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster, who graduated from Bethel in 2010, has always worked in mental health spending time at Generations Mental Health Center, at Carey Counseling Center and now at Mid South Health Net.
“After graduation, I began as a case manager for the mentally ill,” she said. “The mentally ill population has had my heart since day one, and even now, eight years into my career, being around the residents and interacting with them when I’m in the group homes is without a doubt the most enjoyable part of the work I do. They are the reason I love my job – being able to help others is the most satisfying part of my day.”
But she also pointed out that there are difficult situations.
“The most challenging part of my job is knowing we can’t reach everyone who suffers with mental illness. We can’t hold the residents against their will to remain in treatment or even in our group homes. It hurts to see some of our residents give up and want to sign themselves out – especially when we know this decision isn’t the best option for them. It’s heartbreaking when they won’t let us help them, but we understand this comes with the job.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are 43.8 million adults in America who experience mental illness in a given year, and 10 million of those suffer from the most severe forms of mental illness. Furthermore, of the more than 43 million individuals suffering with mental illness, nearly 60 percent or more than 26 million did not receive services in the previous year.
Lancaster said she knew exactly what to expect with mental illness thanks to her social work professors at Bethel.
“I can honestly say that all the courses I took for the human services degree definitely prepared me for this journey I have been on,” she said. “I solely give all the credit to this group of Bethel faculty. And to this day, I still have binders of information I refer to from Mr. Tim Lindsey’s and Ms. Stacie Freeman’s classes.”
Lancaster’s family is closely tied to Bethel – both of her parents, David and the late Barbara Lancaster, are graduates of Bethel, and she and her three siblings are all Bethel graduates as well. Furthermore, David is currently a professor of religion at Bethel.
“Bethel is the place where my parents first met each other, and it is the place where my brothers, my sister and I were prepared for life. I owe much to this school for instilling in me a desire to want to help others. Doing this really does make me very happy.”
For more information on the human services major at Bethel University, go to http://www.bethelu.edu/human-services.