KITTANNING — Some members of a local, consumer-run, mental health support group took their complaints against an agency board that oversees them to the sidewalk Thursday.
Members of the New Vision Drop In Center staged a protest outside their meeting place at 113 Market St. for about an hour in the morning, carrying picket signs telling Tri-Centers Inc. directors from Indiana County to leave the Armstrong County center alone.
“Our city, our center, our consumers,” their signs read.
“Indiana is taking away our center,” a protester said to passers-by.
Tri-Centers Inc. is a mental health services facilitator that maintains three drop-in center support groups as the managing and fiduciary agent, including two in Indiana County and New Vision in Kittanning. New Vision has about 55 members, down from as many as 200 at one time, a member said.
Tri-Centers’ board is made up of 15 members — three consumers from each of the three centers and six non-consumer appointees. Currently, the three seats from Armstrong County’s New Vision are unfilled.
“They (board members from Indiana) are abusing us verbally and mentally,” said New Vision Drop In Center consumer Lisa Beatty of Kittanning. “We have no representation on the board. They’ve kicked our members off or abused them to where they’ve quit. They’ve shut down our center.”
Beatty is calling out to the community and state mental health officials to take notice of their concerns and to help her group facilitate changes.
“It’s about empowering us, the consumers, to run the drop-in center the way we wish to, and with the Tri-Centers board we’re not able to,” Beatty said. “The executive board at Tri-Centers makes decisions without consulting us, asking our opinions or taking a vote. They decided to run our center. They have their director (the director of one of the Indiana centers) running our center.”
“We can’t talk to the board,” said Crista Reefer of Kittanning, another consumer member of New Vision. “They degrade anyone from Kittanning. It’s very intimidating. It’s supposed to be run by the consumers.”
Beatty wants to break away from Tri-Centers as the umbrella agency for New Vision. She said Armstrong County consumers want a local mental health services agency, Mental Health Association in Armstrong County with its executive director Bylinda Brown, to replace Tri-Centers.
MHA is in the same office building on Market Street where New Vision meets.
New Vision members said Brown was once their local director but was fired by Tri-Centers when it closed the center in June.
Brown would not comment.
Yesterday, Gretchen Fischer, the director of one of Tri-Centers’ Indiana drop-in centers, Self Help Alliance, came to the Kittanning facility to open and operate it.
Tri-Centers’ appointed board member Kristy Anthony also was at the Kittanning facility yesterday. She responded to the charges of abuse by New Vision members, saying they were unfounded.
Anthony said she doesn’t know why the three open seats for the Armstrong center on Tri-Centers’ board are not being filled.
“Their council has not put anyone on the board,” she said.
“We’re here to open the center,” Anthony said. “The board closed the center for lack of staff. A contract with MHA is pending. A signed contract is needed for MHA to operate the center.”
Jim Kuemmerle, administrator of mental health and mental retardation services in Armstrong and Indiana counties with an office at the county’s Armsdale property along Route 85 in Rayburn, said his agency contracts with agencies such as Tri-Centers to facilitate grant money from state Department of Public Welfare programs.
Kuemmerle said he is aware of the disconnection between consumers here and in Indiana.
“It’s been a struggle with Tri-Centers and what it needs to be for Armstrong County consumers,” he said. “They (New Vision) want it to be a place of support for them. We have to find out how to get to that and make it a program that the consumers really want.”
Kuemmerle said he supports both Tri-Centers and New Vision.
“I wish it wasn’t an issue,” Kuemmerle said. “Tri-Centers is helpful to individuals with mental illness. And I support consumers’ right to step up when something they feel is not helping them, something they really feel so positive about.
“We’re trying to get everyone together to make it a good organization,” he said.