CEO pushes for treating mental illness, substance use together


Mental illness and drug or alcohol dependency often occur together, but only 7.4 percent of people with those conditions receive treatment for both, according to Linda De Piano, CEO of the Jerome Golden Center for Behavioral Health in West Palm Beach.

More than half get no treatment at all, she said, citing federal statistics.

“Your support is helping us overcome a significant challenge for people with co-occurring disorders,” she told state legislators in Tallahassee in January.

The nonprofit Golden Center calls itself Palm Beach County’s largest safety-net provider of mental health services to more than 9,000 people a year. The center relies on state, federal and local funding as well as donations to operate.

The center employs 385 with facilities including a 44-bed psychiatric hospital, mobile crisis team, outpatient services, housing, and a unit with a special focus on treating mental health and addiction at the same time.

The center has money to operate 12 beds in the co-treatment program. They were always full in 2017, officials said. Among 72 participants during the year, 33 graduated, 27 were voluntarily discharged or terminated and 12 were continuing in the program, according to a presentation to state officials. Among the graduates, officials said all were discharged to stable housing, none went to a hospital psychiatric unit or jail within 180 days and 10 were able to secure full- or part-time employment.

Diverting those patients from jail or repeated hospitalization saved more than $700,000 in potential costs, De Piano argued. For an example of potential costs, treatment advocates have noted one man diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder was jailed 49 times in 40 months in Palm Beach County between March 2006 and July 2009, and was required to have a $2,000 psychiatric exam each time, costing $98,000, she said.

De Piano, 65, was one of four featured honorees at the 34th Annual Women in Leadership Awards at West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center last year.

Her field is challenging but also offers a chance to experience “fulfillment, gratification and helping others in need,” she said.

Name: Linda De Piano, PhD

Age: 65

Hometown: Colonia, NJ

Where you live now: Palm Beach Gardens

About your company: We fill a deep need by serving as the largest safety net mental health provider for low-income and homeless people in Palm Beach County. Our staff cares for over 9,000 clients a year to help them build resiliency, facilitate recovery, and reintegrate into the community and with their families and other support systems to lead fulfilling lives. As a nonprofit, we rely heavily on funding from federal, state, county and our donors to offer comprehensive mental health and substance use disorder services, including a 44-bed psychiatric hospital, 24/7 on-call mobile crisis team, residential co-occurring program, substance abuse treatment program for women and their small children, therapy, medication, case management, group programs, housing, employment assistance, and other wrap-around services.

How your business has changed: There is more awareness and greater acceptance of mental health issues than there was when I first joined the Jerome Golden Center over 30 years ago, but we still have a long way to go. Funding for behavioral health has dwindled over time—in fact Florida ranks 49th lowest in per capita mental health funding. That’s the reason I now spend a large portion of my time advocating in Tallahassee for Palm Beach County’s behavioral health needs. Thankfully, we have legislators like Senator Bobby Powell and Representative Joseph Abruzzo who have fought for funding to support our co-occurring disorder residential program for people who have both severe mental illness and substance use disorder. We had a graduate from our program tell us, “the Jerome Golden Center saved my life.”

First paying job and what you learned from it: I was a cashier at Walgreen’s. After a few weeks of doing my best at the job, a few co-workers pulled me aside and told me I needed to stop working so hard, I was making them look bad. I felt then, as I feel now, that I was hired to do a job to the best of my ability and I wouldn’t succumb to peer pressure. I learned that you have to stick to your own values and keep your nose to the grindstone. I use that same tenacity to fight for our clients in Tallahassee.

First break in the business: I arrived in Florida after earning my PhD and was hired as Director of Planning and Evaluation for the Palm Beach County Mental Health Board. The position gave me an opportunity to become familiar with our entire county mental health system and the people working in the field. That experience is still paying dividends today for creating collaborations and working partnerships to improve behavioral health in our community.

Best business book: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. He talks about the seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. It reinforces my belief that people can be more successful if they approach their work looking for opportunities rather than focusing on barriers and obstacles.

Best piece of business advice you have received: In my early career, my supervisor during my psychology internship at the Children’s Village in Westchester County, New York, always told me you should never give up. Hard work and perseverance will pay off. It’s not about the glory. Small achievements over time will lead to long-term success.

What do you tell young people about your business: Working in the field of nonprofit mental health is not about financial success. It’s about fulfillment, gratification and helping others in need.

What you see ahead for Palm Beach County: I see signs of behavioral health becoming less of a stigma. More people are coming to understand that mental illness is just like any other illness where compassion and funding are needed to care for our community members who are suffering. More and more legislators on our Delegation are advocating for behavioral health, including Representative David Silvers on Baker Act Issues, and Senator Kevin Rader on the opioid crisis, who are joining long-term mental health advocates like Representatives Gayle Harrell, Lori Berman, and MaryLynn Magar. And as long as I can be a voice in Tallahassee, I will do everything I can to create change and take care of our county.

Where we can find you when you are not at the office: Locally, you might find me in the gym. I strongly believe in health, wellness and fitness for good mental health and work out several times a week with a trainer. You might also find me on a travel adventure. I’ve had opportunities to ride elephants in India and Thailand, practice tai chi on the deck of a junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam, go white-water rafting in Costa Rica, and hot air ballooning in the Serengeti. My next stop is the Galapagos Islands! Locally, I enjoy flying down the coast to the Keys with my son, David, who has his pilot’s license.

Favorite smartphone app: My iPhone Health App. I like data and checking things related to my health like tracking my steps, resting heart rate and sleep patterns. It’s important to me to keep my resting heart rate down, get enough exercise and sleep well—all things that are good for my mental health!

The most important trait you look for when hiring: To positively relate to others and work as part of a team. You can teach the specifics of a job, but if you can’t get along with your co-workers, there is no amount of knowledge that is going to get the job done.



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