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Erin O'Leary, Milieu Manager

Everyone, Everyday. Relentlessly

In the recently released UMass Memorial Health Care Anthem video, dozens of caregivers were filmed to help explain to the world who we are, what we do and what we stand for as a system. Find out more about these caregivers and why they were chosen to be in the video to demonstrate how it takes everyone, everyday working together relentlessly to care for our patients and each other. This week, we feature Erin O’Leary of Community Healthlink.

As Milieu Manager at Community Healthlink’s Motivating Youth Recovery (MYR) program, Erin O’Leary is used to the challenge of supporting teens who are struggling with the effects of drug and alcohol use. MYR is a one-of-a-kind inpatient program that provides detoxification and stabilization for adolescents 13 to18 years old. Youth at MYR receive a comprehensive assessment and diagnosis, as well as treatment and aftercare planning from a multidisciplinary treatment team of psychiatrists, master’s level clinicians, registered nurses, case managers and residential counselors.

Reflecting on her experience being part of the Anthem Video, O'Leary says, “It makes me feel proud to know there are so many UMass Memorial entities and people from so many walks of life who are caregivers. We may be doing different work, but we are all helping.”

O'Leary feels that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an interesting effect on the MYR team. “It’s strange,” she says, “COVID-19 has divided us physically, because some of our team is working remotely and some are on-site. But it has also brought us closer as a team because we communicate with each other more effectively and frequently.”

At MYR, O'Leary focuses on helping clients understand that recovery from substance use is not a linear process, and that it takes time to heal. The most meaningful interactions O'Leary has with clients occur when she can respond to a youth in crisis — by listening, talking, or just sitting with the client — until the moment passes and the client knows they will be okay.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MYR has had to take extra precautions when admitting clients, including testing newly admitted clients for COVID-19 and keeping them isolated for up to 24 hours. This isolation process can be hard on adolescents, particularly when they are already apprehensive or frustrated about coming to MYR in the first place. A few months ago, O'Leary came up with an idea to help newly admitted clients pass the time in their isolation rooms. She developed a “COVID-19 kit” that contains snacks, coloring books, colored pencils, crossword puzzles, a radio, a DVD player, movies on DVD and orientation information about MYR. The kits have had a positive impact on new clients while in isolation, helping them lessen their anxiety and occupying their time while their test results are pending.

When asked about the most rewarding part of her job, O'Leary answers without hesitation. “When I see a kid who has discharged from MYR come back and talk to current clients about sobriety — just knowing that they are succeeding makes it all worth it.”