New McLean Role Provides Focused Support for Patients and Families

March 30, 2021

Longtime McLean community member Joanne Grady-Savard has been named director of McLean Hospital’s newest program, Peer and Family Support Services. In this new role, Grady-Savard will lead a team of employees and volunteers who are focused on providing nonclinical support and advocacy to patients and their families.

“It’s a dream of my lifetime,” responded Grady-Savard when asked how she felt about being hired to lead this new service. “I know from personal experience how important it is to provide a warm, supportive community and make a wide range of resources available for people with lived experience and their families and loved ones. Being able to do this for others makes this the most meaningful role of my career.”

The service’s staff, many with lived experience, will collaborate with McLean’s clinical teams to enhance recovery-oriented care. Grady-Savard’s work will provide the bridge between clinical staff, peers, and families to provide education, support, and referrals that enhance continuity of care and community integration.

“We are thrilled to introduce this new service at McLean. It’s something the hospital has wanted to offer for a long time,” said Senior Vice President of Patient Care Services Linda M. Flaherty, RN, PMHCNS-BC. “Joanne’s passion and enthusiasm for helping patients and families—born of her own experience—make her ideal for the role.”

Path to a Dream Job

Grady-Savard herself has a lot of lived experience. Her history with McLean started when her mother was hospitalized here in the late 1960s. Five of her siblings were subsequently diagnosed with serious mental health conditions, and three of them were treated at McLean. She was a caretaker for all of those family members.

Several years ago, shortly after another family member was treated at McLean, Grady-Savard applied to become a member of McLean Hospital’s Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC). This advisory board was established to serve as a forum for volunteers—former patients, family members of former patients, and staff—to discuss ways to promote patient and family-centered care. She said that she interviewed for the role because she felt that not enough progress had been made in how families at McLean and other psychiatric facilities are engaged and informed about their family members’ care.

2 members of Waverley Place
Patients throughout McLean, like these members of Waverley Place, benefit from working with peer specialists—staff with lived experience

Grady-Savard was welcomed to the council in 2015. She was then recruited by Flaherty to volunteer at the Cole Resource Center. Eventually, Grady-Savard became the executive director of the Cole Resource Center, which is a small nonprofit that supports people affected by mental health challenges.

Making the Role Her Own

Grady-Savard intends to build upon the critical work of PFAC and the Cole Resource Center. Her goals include supporting the robust peer support specialist programs at Waverley Place and McLean, augmenting the work of social workers by helping discharged patients reintegrate into their communities, and helping family members become better patient advocates. Leading the development of specialized support groups, such as those for siblings, mothers, fathers, members of the LGBTQ community, and peers, will be another focus of her staff’s work.

She also wants her team to be a part of breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental illness, an unnecessary barrier that prevents people—as it did for one of her siblings—from getting timely care.

“My twin sister, who was sharing an apartment with me in Boston, made her first suicide attempt when we were 23,” said Grady-Savard. “She went to the emergency room, and my father made me release her because he thought it brought shame to the family. How was I supposed to care for her? I didn’t know.”

To help identify other ways that the new program can help patients and families—including those at McLean SouthEast in Middleborough—Grady-Savard recently went on a 30-day listening tour.

Passion and motivation to do this work

She met with clinicians from across the hospital to identify gaps in nonclinical support for patients and families. The tour led her to start working on adding several more services to her program, including connecting survivors of suicide loss with community support and providing peer advocacy for patients who are concerned about their civil rights.

Now, Grady-Savard is working on developing the operational framework of Peer and Family Support Services and vetting volunteers.

Grady-Savard is thankful for all those responsible for helping make Peer and Family Support Services a reality, including Flaherty, McLean President and Psychiatrist in Chief Scott L. Rauch, MD, and a generous donor who is funding Grady-Savard’s salary for three years.

“This is exactly the kind of initiative where philanthropy can be most impactful,” said Grady-Savard. “Although these kinds of services are highly valued by patients and families, insurance companies do not cover them. We wouldn’t have been able to launch this effort without donor support.”

Grady-Savard is extremely passionate and committed to ensuring that all those who have supported the development of Peer and Family Support Services will be proud of what this program will become. But she’s also humble and counting on the support and collaboration of the McLean community.

“I have a strong passion and motivation to do this work,” said Grady-Savard. I feel blessed to have this opportunity to build an inclusive and collaborative community with the enthusiastic support of so many here at McLean. I can’t do it alone.”

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