Carrboro may be a small town, but it has a robust mental health network that rivals larger cities. From Club Nova to the UNC Community Comprehensive Clinic at Carr Mill, the town provides many resources to fully serve its residents with mental illnesses.
Club Nova is based on the clubhouse model and serves people with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. It is a local community center rather than a clinical treatment program and provides resources in psychiatric, medical, social and financial areas.
Club Nova has members, rather than patients, who collaborate with staff to run the operations of the clubhouse. The center in Carrboro serves about 110 people per year, mostly serving Orange County, but they also have members from Chatham, Person and Alamance counties.
One of its major programs is its employee assistance program. Nationally, 80 percent of people with serious mental illness are unemployed, but 50 percent of Club Nova’s new members are employed within one year of membership.
The resources of the program include highly-structured support for part-time, temporary employment with business partners, as well as more hands-off support for those who are already independently employed. Club Nova has a relationship with many local businesses that employ some of their members through the program.
The Hampton Inn of Carrboro has a business partnership with Club Nova. Don Strickland, the general manager of the hotel, said Club Nova helps employees through the working process, from training to obtaining transportation to adjusting to the work environment. A staff member from Club Nova also regularly checks up with Strickland to discuss employees’ progress.
Strickland said the mission of the Hampton Inn aligns with the mission of Club Nova.
“The mission of our Hampton Inn is to spread the light and warmth of hospitality, and I think Club Nova really does that,” Strickland said. “They take people of all ages really, and they look at them for all of their strengths and their opportunities that they have. They are very warm-hearted people and they want to give these people an opportunity — despite the disadvantages they have — to live a normal life and to be able to work with other people.”
Other programs by Club Nova include educational assistance for members trying to further their studies, as well as social and recreational programs planned regularly every week. The club also helps members to obtain necessities such as housing, psychiatric and other medical services, transportation and government disability benefits.
Karen Kincaid Dunn, the executive director of Club Nova, said people with serious mental illness have, on average, a life expectancy that is 25 years shorter than the general population, so providing resources for psychiatric and medical care is essential for members.
Dunn said Carrboro and the surrounding area embraces its members with mental illness, and that’s why the town has such a strong mental health network.
“I think we’re very fortunate to be in a community and municipalities and a county where I think most people want people with mental illness to be part of the community,” Dunn said. “Carrboro embraced Club Nova when we were looking for a place to open. It impacts everybody, no matter who you are, to have people with mental illness be part of the community.”
Dunn said Carrboro’s Club Nova needs to expand its facilities in order to improve its services and serve more people. The club is currently raising money to renovate and add on to its existing building.
Members can choose to participate in running the operations of the clubhouse, which are called units and include administration, program, culinary, thrift shop and membership.
Eric Sullivan, a member who works in the membership unit, performs duties such as logging attendance of members, filing important documents, assisting with membership orientation and also helping out in human resources and administration. Sullivan was also a major contributor in designing, launching and maintaining Club Nova’s website.
Sullivan said he has come to Club Nova for two years. He said the work experience and social interaction has helped stabilize his life tremendously.
“It’s a very stigma-free zone — it’s like a family,” Sullivan said. “You’re not just your diagnosis when you’re here — you are a worthwhile individual who can keep a place going like this. They trust you with a kind of responsibility that you wouldn’t probably normally get.”
Jackie Pattisall, a member and receptionist at Club Nova, said being part of the club has impacted her life positively. She answers phone calls and relays messages to the staff.
“I enjoy coming here every day,” Pattisall said. “It’s brought me happiness and a lot of good support.”
In additional to Club Nova, Carr Mill Mall offers a more traditional clinical setting. The Community Comprehensive Mental Health Clinic provides services for those struggling with all types of mental illness.
The center offers integrated care — combining psychiatric and general medical care — as well as outpatient therapy, medication management services, supported employment services and legal resources for people with mental illness who have committed misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.
The Schizophrenia Treatment and Evaluation Program (STEP) Clinic provides psychiatric services for people with severe mental illnesses, offering psychiatric care, medication management and illness education. Patients from STEP can also obtain services and resources from the general community clinic.
Thava Mahadevan, the director of operations for the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health, said the main issues that need to be addressed in Carrboro are lack of transportation and poverty.
Mahadevan said he thinks point-to-point transportation service targeting the mental health community would help them access health care much more easily, which would not only benefit them but also save money in the public transportation system. He also said living in Chapel Hill and Carrboro is expensive, especially for people with lower income, and this can affect the access to care of many people with mental illness.
Mahadevan said the STEP Clinic and Community Comprehensive Center could use more funding to reach a greater number of people and prevent health emergencies among those with mental illness.
“I think if we had more financial resources, we would be able to expand our services to reach out to more people,” Mahadevan said. “I think we could prevent a lot more of the higher need services like emergency room services and in-patient services by providing a lot more of the preventive services like what we do at the Carrboro STEP Clinic.”