JACKSON HEIGHTS — For Donald Hoffman, mental health is nothing to be ashamed of.
Hoffman, an Astoria resident, has struggled with bipolar disorder and depression for most of his life, and since 2013, he has received services from Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens’ (CCBQ) mental health and rehabilitation center in Jackson Heights.
“That’s one of the keys — find somebody who will actually listen to and help you,” Hoffman, 63, said. “Don’t be ashamed of your mental condition. There are millions of people out there who struggle and get help, but some just don’t know how to talk about it.”
The center in Jackson Heights is one of five that CCBQ operates in Brooklyn and Queens, and on Dec. 18, it opened an in-house pharmacy there, making it easier for patients like Hoffman to get their medicine.
“It’s a great step forward, and really emphasizes the idea of integration in a very positive way,” Msgr. Alfred LoPinto, CCBQ’s CEO and president, said at a ceremony marking the opening.
“The importance is that those who come here and receive services in the mental health clinic and support programs can now get their medications right on-site,” he said.
“We’ll be able to monitor and see how they make use of medications … not only dealing with the physical and the mental, but bringing together the whole persona, which leads to healthy living. That’s what we’re about. This [clinic and pharmacy] gives them the support system for people to better be able to manage their lives.”
CCBQ partnered with Genoa Healthcare, a Renton, WA-based business that operates pharmacies inside mental health clinics.
“Being physically located on-site allows people to walk down to the pharmacy,” Mark Peterson, CEO of Genoa Healthcare, said. “Health care is local. It’s about relationships, and it’s about communication, and the ability to walk down to the pharmacy and have real communication face to face, to talk to people about their health-care goals, and to find ways to take down barriers to help them achieve those goals.”
Pharmacist Christina Ardelian said that people without health insurance and eligible low-income individuals can apply for hardship to lower the costs of their medicines. Patients with illnesses ranging from depression to substance abuse and schizophrenia have gotten their medicines lowered from hundreds of dollars per month to just $15, she said.
“The mission is to help people stay on medication and help them live better lives,” Peterson said.
“Most everyone here is, or knows, someone affected by mental illness and suicide,” said Claudia Salazar, vice president of clinics, recovery and rehabilitative services for CCBQ. “What brings us here is the need to want and help.”
One in 10 New Yorkers experience a mental health illness that’s serious enough to disrupt their daily functioning, according to CCBQ, and access to quality mental health care is vital.
Hoffman comes to the CCBQ clinic in Jackson Heights four days a week for group therapy sessions and classes, which he said helps him clear his mind, along with his routine medication of Abilify and Celexa.
“It’s a full plate, as it were,” Hoffman, who also suffers from terminal stage 4 lung cancer and had a brain tumor removed in late 2018, said. He suffered from drug addiction and substance abuse for much of his adult life. “I was manic, always up and down, not diagnosed right or getting medication. I needed all the help I can find,” he said.
The new pharmacy is a comforting addition for Hoffman, who said he hopes it will help others who are struggling with mental illness to find help.
As he continues to receive therapy and treatment, Hoffman is looking for work, and his case worker at the center helped him find an affordable place of his own. He enjoys volunteering at the center, helping to fix things around the building. Things are looking up, he said.