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Johnson City's trauma informed system of care is model for the country

Becky Campbell • Sep 5, 2018 at 11:59 PM

Johnson City is on the verge of becoming a completely Trauma-Informed Care community, which local officials believe can improve the health, education and social lives of everyone who lives in the region.

And Johnson City’s efforts to create this system of care could spur a national movement.

That belief was apparent Wednesday at a national seminar held at the Carnegie Hotel where more than 100 people — local and from across the nation — gathered to learn how to move from understanding Trauma-Informed Care to implementing trauma-responsive services.

Johnson City hosted a forum for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.

Why Johnson City?

Johnson City has become a shining star when it comes to Trauma-Informed Care and the SAMHSA model, according to Stephanie McCaddie, a SAMHSA regional administrator who oversees Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“This is about showing a model that has worked here in Johnson City as far as being trauma-informed, but not only being trauma-informed but responding to the community’s needs and having those important partners within a city and a community to work together for a common goal,” Stephanie McCaddie, a SAMHSA Regional Administrator who oversees Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, said Johnson City's trauma informed system of care, is a model for the country, said.

According to the Trauma Informed Care Project website, the foundation is an “organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. It emphasizes physical, psychological and emotional safety for both consumers and providers, and helps survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.”

Part of the system also includes Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), which is a method to determine what trauma a person has encountered in their lives that affect their behaviors.

“We all want to decrease crime. We want to see people who need health and human services get those services, and it’s all interconnected. Leadership is very important — to have a commitment and a passion for wanting to see your community survive,” McCaddie said.

Where It Began

Johnson City’s journey to becoming a trauma-informed community, and trauma responsive, started in 2013 when Becky Hass was hired by the Johnson City Police Department to direct an $800,000 crime reduction grant. The grant was funded for three years, but the success Haas created by leading the development of community programs has reduced crime, gotten down to the root of issues that cause crime, revitalized neighborhoods and made the city safer overall.

Through that process, Haas met Dr. Andi Clements, a professor and assistant chair of the East Tennessee State University Department of Psychology, and they embarked on learning about trauma-informed care. Their efforts continued to grow and involve more and more community organizations such as the school system, health organization, substance abuse recovery programs and faith-based organizations.

Who Attended

The people who attended Wednesday’s forum came from near and far. Not only was it local providers who attended to continue learning about trauma-informed care and implementing the concept, but many came from other states, including Oklahoma, Vermont, Kentucky, Delaware, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, North Dakota, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Maine, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. 

The hope, Clements and Haas said, is those who attended will take what they learned about how Johnson City created and implemented its system.

Haas said the intent was to present the forum in such a way that other cities could use it as a model for building their own community-wide systems of care.

“The goal of this forum was to reach beyond those currently involved in the Johnson City System of Care and provide other cities the tools for accelerating their efforts to understand the prevalence of trauma, to learn ways to prevent adverse childhood experiences and increase community resiliency,” Haas said.

After the forum ended, Clements said what’s so important in getting the message across is that the problems that are society’s problems today — addiction, break-up of families, incarceration — are in every community, so “any community we can get this understanding into can help any community member, any person on the street,” and not just the professional whose work is centered around those issues.

Presenters at the forum included ETSU professionals, health professionals and community service professionals.

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