Pool Of Consumer Champions

In August of 2006, Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services (ACBHCS) hired a Consumer Relations Manager, who hired 4 additional consumer staff. Within a year, with support of mental health administration, the Pool of Consumer Champions (POCC), an active grass roots group of consumers geographically representing Alameda County, was born.

From its inaugural Conference in May 2007, the POCC has grown to over 240 consumers strong, with (approximately) 70 % representing ethnic diversity and “underserved /inappropriately” served people. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for Alameda County residents who have mental health issues and to provide the consumer perspective in transforming Alameda County Mental health Services to a recovery vision that is consumer-driven, culturally competent, and holistic in its services and supports. It provides a strong voice: of, by, and for consumers in the mental health system and in the community.

“Nothing About Us Without Us” is the POCC’s overarching theme. To this end, POCC members sit on multiple ACBHCS activity and policy Committees. These include (but are not limited to) the Ongoing Planning Council, the Mental Health Board, other Committees that address substantive issues such as Cultural Diversity, Spirituality, Criminal Justice, Co-Occurring Disorders, Employment, Housing, and Transitional Age Youth. The POCC indeed provides a very dynamic consumer voice in Alameda County.

In its relatively short existence, the POCC members have been meaningfully involved and provided strong leadership in the stakeholder processes that developed the County’s MHSA Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) and Workforce Education and Training (WET) Plans, two of the components of the MHSA. POCC members voted that reducing Stigma and Discrimination and getting consumers trained and employed in the mental health system were their top MHSA funding advocacy priorities. Through hard work, organizing, and collaborating ACBHCS and other stakeholders, both of these priorities became major components of the respective MHSA plans. Clearly, the POCC has impacted MHSA program planning.

Internally POCC members prioritized their major issues and developed Committees to work on these issues. These issue Committees are African American Male Issues which is developing a Black Men Speak speakers bureau; Criminal Justice which is concentrating on mental health courts and training police; Cultural Diversity which is developing a Web Site; Healing Trauma which is organizing a major Conference for the fall; Consumer Employment Advisory Task Force which is working on training of and hiring consumers in the mental health work force; and the Luncheon Training Committee which provides monthly trainings (with lunch) on specific topics of interest to POCC members.

POCC members also participate in administrative Committees such as the Orientation Committee which welcomes new members and introduces them to the functions of the POCC; the Special Interest Committee which works to ensure that the POCC is addressing the issues of greatest concern to its members; and Special Activities Committee, which organizes special events including trainings, parties, and other social networking events such as the August 20 picnic. and, finally, the Steering Committee that provides oversight for the work of the POCC, including the other Committees.

The POCC’s priority of consumer training and empowerment has resulted in scholarships to support its members to attend statewide trainings and conferences. POCC members are also working collaboratively with the ACBHCS Spirituality Committee on the role that spirituality plays in recovery and were active in planning the Northern California Mental Health and Spirituality Conference held June 1 and 2, 2009. In addition to developing consumer and recovery based projects, exciting and relevant trainings, and social networking activities, POCC members gain leadership and group skills by participating in these Committees.

For more information contact Mary Hogden at mhogden@acbhcs.org