Q & A with Kirsten Vincent

Interim CEO at Recovery Options emphasizes the value of peer work in providing services to people with mental health issues

By Michael J. Billoni

Kirsten Vincent, Ph.D., is interim CEO at Recovery Options, a nonprofit that provides housing and support services to individuals facing mental health issues. She has more than 25 years of experience in the field through her work in Western New York and the Finger Lakes regions and believes peer services are an integral part of creating a consistent, secure, safe and non judgmental circle of support. Recovery Options is a nearly $6.3 million annual operation. We recently spoke with her about the organization.

What is Recovery Options?

“Formerly Housing Options, we are a nonprofit-supported housing and community support agency developed and operated by and for recipients of mental health services. Our aim is to achieve social equality for individuals with mental illness by providing housing and support services so individuals may live with dignity and have choices in the community. Recovery Options programs include housing, supported by peer care management. Care managers help those in recovery have access to and utilize the services they need. Respite for those in need of a time for rejuvenation is available in our Buffalo and Jamestown houses. Our Warm Lines help people across our footprint receive anonymous support when they need to reach out for support. Our Bridger and Renewal Center Hospital Diversion programs help people coming from Buffalo Psychiatric and Rochester Psychiatric Centers find their place in the community.”

Whom do you serve?

“People who struggle with mental health or substance use disorders. Recovery Options is committed to decreasing stigmas by increasing the awareness of mental illness through information, education and advocacy. Efforts are focused on recipients, family members, community members and mental health professionals in the counties of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming.”

What is the benefit to a peer organization?

“As peers we utilize our lived experience for the benefit of others. We have been there and we understand many of the struggles people face, and while my experience is going to be different from the person next to me, we still share the common theme of have lived experiences to that we can draw off to support each other. Being able to utilize our lived experiences really allows us to create genuine, authentic relationships with the people we work with, because we are people helping people.”

How do you keep people out of the hospital?

“Our hospital diversion programs give people alternatives to traditional hospital services while saving Medicaid millions of dollars every year. Our peer services provide a person centered, self-directed form of service that takes a holistic approach to working with a person.”

Why was the organization rebranded?

“We wanted our name to be a truer reflection of the work we do in supporting the recovery of individuals, their families and the community. In 1990, the agency was founded [as Housing Options] to support people who were coming out of the Gowanda Psych Center find safe and secure housing, and to provide continued supports to the people in our program. Through the ‘90s and early 2000s we expanded our housing program to cover multiple counties throughout Western New York. We then expanded our programs to include Peer Bridging, which is a program that has a certified peer work with someone who is coming out of the hospital to help support their reintegration into the community. We also opened our peer-run warmlines, which are a peer support phone lines and we opened the first multi-county recovery center for people with mental health issues. Then, in 2015 we opened two peer-run short-term crisis respites. These are 24/7 respites for anyone who is experiencing difficulties and who need a place to go and work through the crisis they are experiencing. In 2017 we then expanded into medically integrated programs such as our Community Integration Team and our partnership in The Renewal Center, which is a hospital diversion crisis center. Our rebranding will help people better understand how we can support their recovery.”

How can people support you?

“Many of our programs receive New York state or county funding, but we do require additional financial support through donations, which can be made by visiting www.recoveryoptions.org.

For those in need of support, call 716-532-5508 or 800-421-1114.”