Q & A with Valerie Nowak

Chief executive officer of Harmonia Collaborative Care says organization strives to help those with mental health issues, support seniors in need in community

By Michael J. Billoni

Valerie Nowak, chief executive officer of Harmonia Collaborative Care in Derby since 2019, has been with the organization as a New York state-licensed mental health counselor for 14 years.

She holds a Master of Arts in mental health counseling, a master’s degree in public administration and is a health leaders fellow of the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York.

Harmonia Collaborative Care has 40 employees and an annual budget of more than $2.5 million.

For more information, visit www.harmonia-care.org or call 716-947-5025.

Western New York In Good Health newspaper recently interviewed Nowak about Harmonia Collaborative Care.

Q.: What is Harmonia Collaborative Care’s mission?

A.: Formerly Community Concern of WNY, we are a nonprofit organization providing behavioral health, health home and senior care services to foster individuals’ independence and improve their quality of life.

We all strive to find harmony in our lives and to find concordance between family, passions, work and our homes. There are many challenges to a harmonious existence: sickness, addiction, the realities of aging and the burdens of life.

Harmonia’s mission is to help harmonize our clients’ lives again, so they can move to a melody that supports healthy balance. Harmonia is the Latin word for harmony, and can also mean melody, consonance and concordance. It speaks to disparate pieces working together to create something whole.

Q.: How does Harmonia Collaborative Care help harmonize lives?

A.: Our professional staff, working at our two beautiful facilities in Derby and Hamburg and from individuals’ homes across Western New York, prides itself in providing empathic care to help establish balance in our clients’ lives. We strive to enable people to attain their highest level of well-being and independence through our integrated mental health, senior and health home services while reducing the cost of care for individuals and funders alike.

Q.: Why was the organization rebranded?

A.: For years, people have struggled to understand the services our organization provides. The word “concern” was especially troubling for people to define as it related to a human service agency.

Broad, sweeping images of “concerning” community issues (political, socioeconomic, legal) often jumped into people’s minds. Following our acquisition of Hamburg Counseling Services in late 2017, which substantially increased our service capacity and geographic diversity, the time was right to look introspectively and objectively at our structure, goals, and potential as well as the perception we help in the minds of our many constituents.

Q.: Whom do you serve?

A.: Our mental health counseling provides services to people aged 13 and up, as well as seniors and families in need of support through our programs.

Our CarePanion program provides in-home housekeeping and companionship to seniors to support keeping them in their homes. We accept Medicaid, Medicare and most health insurance plans.  Some of our senior programs are supported by a contract through Erie County Senior Services, which means some people may qualify because of financial need.  Caregivers who need help have chosen this option because it is an affordable way to support their loved ones.

Q.: Tell us about the growing mental health and seniors’ needs in WNY?

A.: We have all heard the challenges individuals with mental health needs undergo due to stigma and access to help. The number of people in need in our community is growing.

In a rural setting, access to care is challenging because of the isolation brought about by lack of transportation. We are working to bring quality tele-behavioral health to those shut-in or isolated. The same is true for our seniors.

They are isolated physically and emotionally. Our programs strive to meet them where they are, supporting their needs and elevating their quality of life. The COVID-19 crisis escalated the temporary need to connect with people by alternative means. We have transformed our behavioral health clinic to a “virtual” clinic, providing services by phone or video in a temporary capacity. Our senior services case managers are connecting with their clients by phone.

Q.: How can the public support Harmonia?

A.: Harmonia Collaborative Care is a New York state-licensed nonprofit. In order for the organization to continue to provide these services to the community of those in need, we need financial contributions.

Small investments from our fellow WNYers in need add up.  Donations can be made at www.harmonia-care.org.

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