Suicide Prevention and Understanding in NNY

Bob Gorman

Suicide remains the death that dares not speak its name.

    Families often write around the word in obituaries to avoid citing the actual cause of death. Medical examiners are occasionally begged to do the same thing if writing the word “suicide” in their report will mean the loss of benefits for a grieving survivor with three small children.

    And all those drug overdoses? Local death statistics include actual question marks. That’s because even though investigators are pretty sure many of these deaths were intentional, they can’t be certain if there were no notes or witnesses.

    If you talk to first responders, nonprofit leaders and high school guidance counselors, you learn quickly that suicide is a topic that can no longer be avoided. Somebody this year will attempt suicide while in jail, or at a halfway house or after another evening of reading texts from a mob attacking the psyche of a solitary teenager.

    My one lone involvement with a suicide was the death of an employee at the Watertown Daily Times in 1999. Charlie Tenny took his life by hanging himself from a tree in his beloved Adirondacks. Because Charlie was a journalist, many other journalists tried to make sense of the senseless.

    One of Charlie’s friends, who worked at the Hartford Courant, wrote a column almost a year after Charlie’s death that included this: “The timing of his suicide remains incomprehensible to me. He did it while his sister, Carol, was in China adopting a baby girl. Carol got the news of Charlie’s death in Los Angeles, between flights on the way home to Pittsburgh. She screamed “No! No! No!” so loud that people came running across the terminal.

    Back home, Carol fell into depression.

    “I did feel my life changed unalterably from the moment I found out that Charlie did what he did,” Carol told me. “I would look at teenagers laughing, and I would just be amazed. They were like foreign animals. What are these people doing? There just seemed to be such a gulf between me and them.”

    In public places, Carol would suddenly blurt out, “I love you, Charlie.”

    “I thought I was saying it quietly, but people would look at me funnily… but I couldn’t talk to anybody without telling them about [Charlie’s suicide]; it was a central fact of my life.”

    To encourage a conversation about the value of life, the United Way of NNY in late March sponsored events at eight high schools and two evening programs with Roger Breisch of Batavia, Ill. Breisch has spent the last 15 years as a counselor on local and national suicide hotlines, often talking to teenagers who think their lives are useless.

    Breisch’ s talk, “Finding Life on the Suicide Hotline” challenged students to take an inventory of their own lives and find ways to value the person they are, and not give credence to a false narrative about who they aren’t.

    His uplifting message comes at a good time. The region’s suicide prevention coalitions in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties are working to reverse a trend that saw 163 people commit suicide in the three-county region over a five-year period.

    Kevin Contino, a data analyst for the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, has statistics collected locally and through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    In 2016, the suicide death rate per 100,000 population was:

  • 12.8 for the three-county region
  • 8.5 for New York State
  • 13.9 for the United States

 Over the most recent five years of federal data (2012-2016), the death rate due to suicide was:

  • 14.1 in Jefferson County (83 deaths, 16.6 per year)
  • 21.4 in Lewis County (29 deaths, 5.8 per year)
  • 9.2 in St. Lawrence County (51 deaths, 10.2 per year)
  • The most common mechanisms for suicide were firearms (48 percent), hanging/suffocation (31 percent), and poisoning (19 percent).
  • Eighty-four percent of decedents were male.
  • Sixty percent of suicide deaths were at the decedent’s home, 7 percent were in an outpatient medical facility, and 33 percent elsewhere.
  • During the five year span, the death rate per 100,000 people for the age groups 15-24, 34-44 and 65-74 was almost identical at just over 17 percent.
  • In 2016 residents of the tri-county region had 235 emergency department visits with a principal diagnosis of either suicide attempt or suicidal ideation. The numbers for each county were: Jefferson, 161; Lewis; 15 and St. Lawrence: 59. Seventy-one percent of these patients were younger than 30; the median age was 21 and the percentage of male and female was identical.

    And for every one of these cases, there are dozens of survivors, like Charlie’s sister, who still cry out a loved one’s name.

    As Roger Breisch showed the north country last month, there is never a wrong time to start having a regional conversation to help reduce that suffering.

Bob Gorman is president and CEO of United Way of Northern New York. Contact him at bgorman@unitedway-nny.org or 315-788-5631.

Tax Bill Could Impact Charitable Giving

Bob Gorman

If San Francisco Detective “Dirty Harry” Callahan were now running a nonprofit, he might tell you the following:

    “I know what you’re thinking. Did the federal government just cut my taxes or did it eliminate my charitable deductions? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is how tax deductions will now be calculated by the most powerful country in the world, and a miscalculation could blow a hole in your family budget, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

    The likelihood of dismissing a valued donor as a “punk” is one reason Dirty Harry never took over the Bay City chapter of the United Way. But as frightening as it would be to have a nonprofit executive unholster a .44 magnum during campaign appeals, reading the reactions of nonprofit organizations to the recently passed Tax Bill is even more frightening.

    The National Council of Nonprofits, quoting the Joint Committee on Taxation, estimates that the new law will lead the public to reduce its charitable giving nationally by $13 billion a year, forcing nonprofits  to face bankruptcy or eliminate jobs for a quarter of a million people.

    United Way Worldwide CEO Brian Gallagher added, “Because of our reliance on middle-class donors, cumulatively, United Ways across the U.S. will face losses between $256 million to $455 million per year, significantly impacting their ability to help those who will now be in potentially greater need.”

    The new tax plan is indeed funky for a simple reason: While the federal government wants a majority of individuals to get a tax cut, the federal government can’t afford a reduction in how much tax is generated.

    Thus, the tax bill gives and takes away at the same time. You lose individual exemptions for yourself and children, but you’re allowed a larger amount (an increase from $12,700 to $24,000 for a couple) to deduct without the need to itemize. If you itemize, your property tax and state income tax deduction is capped at $10,000, but you can still write off all of your charitable giving.

    So the tax bill is a sweet deal for some and havoc for others.

    How will this all shake out for local nonprofits? My guess is: People who started the year with little interest in helping their neighbors won’t change; those who do care will continue to find ways to help.

    That’s because even before the tax bill was conceived, rapid changes in the economy, social media and community engagement habits were already forcing nonprofits to retool their messaging for fundraising appeals and diversifying their revenue streams.

    Consider how Amazon alone is hurting nonprofit support. The more we buy products online from a warehouse in Alabama, the more we erode the business base of our own community. And that erodes the support local businesses give to nonprofits.

    Meanwhile, more national businesses are following a now familiar marketing scheme: Buy their product, they sweetly suggest, and THEY will donate a portion of your payment to a nonprofit. What a deal… a charitable donation that doesn’t feel – or can be itemized — like a charitable donation! In reality it erodes the relationship between local citizens and local nonprofits.

    “Give, volunteer and advocate” is the mantra of the United Way as we always encourage charity to start at home. I believe caring citizens will not allow themselves to be deterred from that local mission, regardless of the outside agitations of both a dysfunctional federal government and distant businesses who see charity as just another tool to build a global monopoly.


    Larry Storie was aptly named as his life was indeed one long story of overcoming physical adversity with vim and vigor. But it was his vision for the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Jefferson County that he will be remembered for by staff, board members and other nonprofit leaders.

    Vision is indeed the right word. During decades of slowly losing the majority of his sight, Larry strove to find every new gadget to help him navigate a world going dark. In less than a year as the executive of the agency, he was making that vision become a reality and generating more and more community support, including increased financial help from the United Way of NNY.

    Larry died in December, another victim of the inexplicable disease of leukemia. Some strains give you a chance to recover with treatment. Other strains lead to death within days of detection, as was the case for Larry.

    Larry was a good friend of the United Way and we will miss him.

 

Bob Gorman is president and CEO of United Way of Northern New York. Contact him at bgorman@unitedway-nny.org or 315-788-5631.

Nonprofits Not Place for Political Gamesmanship

MEME PROVIDED BY BOB GORMAN Watertown City Council candidate created this meme in his opposition to ACR Health’s syringe exchange office. In it he also falsely accused City Councilman Steve Jennings of selecting the location.

[Read more…]

ESPRI Taking Shape in Helping Reduce Area Poverty

Eric J. Hesse, right, New York State Division of Veterans Affairs director, earlier this year met with community advocates during a training session for the Watertown Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. Hesse, a retired colonel who spent 10 of his 26 years in the military at Fort Drum, outlined the state’s role in helping the local ESPRI effort. Meeting with him were task force chairs, left to right, Kevin Hill, Workforce Development, Krystin LaBarge, Education, Carolyn Mantle, Education vice chair, John Bonventre, Transportation, and Angie King, Housing.

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Greetings to the members of the Class of 2017!

Bob Gorman

Those of you who should have been in the Class of 2016 have already learned an important business lesson about this esteemed institution that honors you today: The journey is more important than the destination — as long as your check doesn’t bounce.

    And speaking of business, all of you will be looking for a job soon and there are a couple of things you ought to know. Your perception of the job market and what you think employers are looking for is likely very different from what the job market is and what employers are actually looking for.

    It’s like the difference between a recession and a depression. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose YOUR job. The Rev. Jesse Jackson campaigned for president in the 1980s using this concept. Even though national unemployment was 5 percent at the time, he would tell listeners: “But if YOU are the one without a job, the unemployment rate is 100 percent.”

    Your perception of the job market is affected by the government, which relentlessly tinkers with the economy to create more jobs. Thus, you may be under the impression that everyone is doing his utmost to ensure that everyone has a job.

    And you would be wrong.

    Government says it wants full employment. But business and industry strive for minimum employment because minimum employment is the key to keeping down costs.

    Thus, as you look for a job you should know this: Nobody really wants to hire you.

    This is evidenced by the fact that in most cases, the job you will be applying for has been vacant for some time.

    Business and industry often allow jobs to go unfilled for a while to control expenses and to learn — or be reminded — of just how important the job is to the company. By the time you show up for the interview, the company has only recently — and reluctantly — decided that someone must be hired.

    There are some very sound business reasons for this reluctance.

    1) You are costly. Your salary is all that you see, but the company sees health benefits, insurance, Social Security and a variety of other costs. You think you’re getting paid $30,000, but to the company you are costing it $40,000 or more.

    2) You don’t know anything. You’ll even admit it in a job interview by saying such things as, “I’m a quick learner,” or “you’ll only have to tell me once.” To the company you are a person who won’t generate a return on its investment for at least a year.

    3) You have just spent four years in college being coddled in a manner the rest of the world can’t afford to replicate. There are a lot of chuckleheads who six months out of college quit their jobs and run home to mommy after being wounded by some minor inconvenience. Thus, you are considered a flight-risk hire.

    So if nobody wants you, how do you get a job? The first thing you must do is decide what you want to accomplish in your interview. That means you must learn what the company wants to accomplish.

    Of course, there are several things you shouldn’t do during a job interview. Never ask:

* When do I get a vacation?

* When do I get a raise?

* Will I have to work overtime?

    Never announce which sports teams you hate. Don’t say church is for idiots. If asked about hobbies, don’t meander into your sex life. And don’t get cute and ask what the company is doing to save the Brazilian rain forest, unless the company is actually trying to save rain forests.

    Obviously, what you say will be held against you. In a way, what you are trying to do is have a lively discussion without putting your foot in your mouth.

    Make a list of questions and store them mentally. Learn about the company’s history on its website. They do not have to be great questions, but they will show that you are actually interested in learning about the company. How long does training take place? How many employees are there? Does the company encourage people to be involved in community activities? After all, most businesses and industries want to be good corporate neighbors and want employees who are on the same wavelength.

    Basically, you have few advantages during the interview other than trying to control who is doing the talking.

    Will any of this work? There are no guarantees, of course. Nobody has a sure-fire method for getting a job. But I do know how you can at least be asked to come in for that crucial job interview.

    On your resume, write the following:

SHORT-TERM GOAL

    “To do my job so well that within a year after I’m hired my supervisor will receive a promotion and a pay raise.”

    I know this doesn’t jibe with your notion that the world is about you. But forget the jibe; you need a job. Trust me, this will work.

                Good luck on your future, especially to those of you who added a self-inflicted extra semester or two to your debt load.

World of Working Poor Misunderstood

Bob Gorman

The late Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a millionaire many times over, lived in the same house on the north side of Pittsburgh from the 1930s until his death in 1988.
     That seemingly insignificant fact is actually an example of a very significant point made in the book “Our Kids, The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert Putnam.
     Children in America today don’t experience the same variety of life—and views—as children did decades ago because they no longer live around families of different economic standing. Anybody living today in the same economic stratosphere Rooney conquered years ago would never live in the same neighborhood for 50 years, surrounded by an increasing number of unknown neighbors who can only afford to live where property values are declining.
     Through voices and statistics, Putnam shows how we have become a nation of economically segregated communities. The world of the impoverished and the working poor is all around, but it is misunderstood and misinterpreted by those well off because often our only interactions – if there are any at all – are through the service industry. We only speak when you take my dinner order or when you show me in which aisle I can find light bulbs.
     If asked, we can give myriad examples of how the world has changed dramatically over the last 30 years because of the digital revolution. We get our money out of an ATM, our music out of a phone, our weather forecast out of an app. Communication isn’t the same; sports aren’t the same; medicine isn’t the same, education is not the same.
     But with poverty, many of us are guilty of thinking the same things we thought 30 years ago. Such as, poverty can be ended overnight, if only: 1) People would stop being lazy and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and 2) Government would stop giving away so much welfare.
     Except there is this: The economic decline of the U.S. since the 1980s has ensured that more people do not have the wherewithal to be self-sufficient. The ability for thousands of north country citizens to create sufficient wealth—such as that produced on assembly lines at Air Brake, General Motors and a myriad other businesses in the north country— has disappeared.
     With the loss of stable, 40-hour-a-week jobs that included health insurance and pensions, thousands of people under the age of 40 have entered a job market that bears no relationship to the world their parents entered. Meanwhile, the ability to hand down financial support from one generation to the next is eroding as well.
     And that trend will continue, as outlined in the book “Humans Need Not Apply” by Jerry Kaplan, who has been at the epicenter of the creation of “artificial intelligence” for the last 40 years.
     While government crows loudest when employment is highest, business is most profitable when it employs the fewest people possible. And artificial intelligence – from the airline and concert tickets you buy online today to the driverless vehicle you will buy/rent in a few years – is eliminating one job after another, particularly those that the working poor are most able to do.
     (Just to be fair, Kaplan points out that artificial intelligence will eventually be providing the majority of initial medical diagnoses and routine legal work, knocking off a lot of jobs in medicine and law too.)
     This is producing one massive conundrum: Government is trying to move those in poverty and the working poor toward jobs that are being eliminated by artificial intelligence.
     Right now around 100 citizens in Watertown are taking part in a program that is trying to find local answers to that very issue. The Watertown/Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) is one of 16 such studies going on in New York that are giving communities an opportunity to receive state funds if they can develop a plan to make more people self-sufficient.
     Locally the program is being administered by the United Way of NNY and directed by former YMCA
     Executive Director Peter Schmitt. Dozens of meetings are being held to discuss four primary areas: housing, transportation, education and workforce development.
     With continued progress, a road map for Watertown will be submitted to the state this summer and programs will be funded and begin soon after.
     There is no guarantee that anything can be done to reduce poverty in Watertown. But as Putnam and Kaplan show us, doing nothing will allow the problem to become worse.

Working to change the culture of care

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

Fort Drum is full of acronyms, but the two most recent acronyms to come to the north country are courtesy of civilians: DSRIP and ALICE.

The state’s Delivery System Reform Initiative Payment (DSRIP) program is a short but tongue-twisting way of saying that too much money is being spent on people after they are sick and not enough is being spent on keeping people from getting sick.

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, which is another tongue-twisting way of referring to the working poor.

The DSRIP punchline is this: The region wants to reduce hospital use by 25 percent within five years

The ALICE punchline is this: The state is getting dangerously close to having 50 percent of its households unable to generate enough income to cover the basic costs of living, let alone save for the future.

But first, DSRIP. Changing the culture of treatment to a culture of prevention is going to be difficult, especially when too many of us overdose on opiates, alcohol, tobacco, sugar, etc. Too many of us also suffer from mental, emotional and behavioral health issues. The easy thing to do is put off addressing a health issue in hopes it will go away. If we are wrong, well, there is an emergency room nearby.

Everyone in health care agrees with the direction, although hospitals are quietly trying to figure out how to eventually retool their budgets, staffs, etc., if one quarter of their patient load no longer shows up.

Leading that conversation is the North Country Initiative, which is operated out of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. The Initiative has already secured $3 million to help the region’s hospitals with this transition, while identifying key targets such as suicide prevention, smoking cessation and diabetes reduction.

Also facing the change in direction is our nonprofit community, which is now expected to become part of a health care provider system. That sounds nice on paper, but it is requiring a complete turning of the ship for agencies that have historically operated as individual organizations.

“(DSRIP) is extremely relevant and is actually what I spend most of my days, and sleepless nights, working on,” said Korin Scheible, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Jefferson County.

“DSRIP is the main reason for our name change” from the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council of Jefferson County to Pivot, said Executive Director William Bowman. That’s because Pivot is looking at the entire health care of an individual, not simply guiding people away from addictions.

“Currently the impact to our agency is mainly administrative, but there will be some programmatic aspects that will become part of our services as time goes on,” said Bowman. “We are looking at how our services impact the DSRIP goals of reducing unnecessary hospital admissions by 25 percent, and aligning our outcome measures to help determine that.”

Access Care and Resources for Health recently hired a staff person specifically to guide its agency through DSRIP. But it wasn’t easy. In a press release the agency noted: “ACR Health recognized the magnitude of DSRIP and made the difficult decision to take on a full-time DSRIP Coordinator, Poonam Patel. The lack of supporting funds to manage infrastructure and hire staff poses challenges as individuals in their full-time roles take on newly incorporated DSRIP responsibilities.”

Yet, all nonprofits that provides any health care services — such as behavioral health and opioid addiction — understand that treating an individual individually by each agency and health center or hospital is not always in the best interest of the person.

“We are trying to help treat the overall health — mind, body and spirit,” said Jim Scordo, executive director of Credo, which several years added a mental health clinic to its role in helping people end their drug addictions.

To better understand how DISRIP will affect the north country, please see this 20-minute tutorial at: https://vimeo.com/160913448

As for ALICE, a statewide United Way report released in November shows that 44 percent of the state’s households are generating incomes below the threshold needed to provide rent, food, medical care, educational opportunities for children and saving for the future.

In Watertown, the percentage is 57 percent. That number is in part the reason the state this year awarded a $1 million anti-poverty grant to the city, which has asked the United Way of NNY to administer. We have asked former Watertown Y executive director Peter Schmitt to lead this effort to help us better understand how we can help people receive services more promptly, and fund programs that help more citizens become self-sufficient.

DSRIP and ALICE alone won’t solve all the issues facing our community. But they are good starts and will be acronyms worth knowing about in the years to come.

Thank you, volunteers, for all you do

HOLLY BONAME n NNY BUSINESS In Jefferson County this year's recipients of the Macsherry Family Community Spirit Awards are Tops Family Markets and Heather White, left, With Richard Macsherry.

HOLLY BONAME n NNY BUSINESS
In Jefferson County this year’s recipients of the Macsherry Family Community Spirit Awards are Tops Family Markets and Heather White, left, With Richard Macsherry.

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August 2016: Nonprofits Today

Embracing the call to ‘Lives Matter’

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

In September 1976 my brother, Jim, was shooting baskets with fellow members of the Morgan State University basketball team. It was “open gym” so other students were nearby shooting baskets as well.

No big deal, except for one minor detail: Jim had just shown up on campus as the first white player to receive a basketball scholarship to Baltimore’s “historically black” Morgan State. [Read more…]

April 2016: Nonprofits Today

Working for north country businesses

Editor’s note: The following information was presented March 3 during the Business of the Year Awards given by the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce. The United Way of Northern New York was named the Small Nonprofit of the Year at the event.

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

Every day the Watertown Daily Times prints the names of people charged with driving under the influence. It’s easy to dismiss the names as representing the dregs of society.

But if you are in management around here long enough, one day one of those names will belong to one of your employees, a person who is crucial to the success of your business. [Read more…]