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Part Support Group, Part Job Training Program, Clubhouses Help Mentally Ill Re-Enter Workforce

Member Ricky Edwards at work at Central Indiana Clubhouse.
Jill Sheridan

A community center serving those with severe mental illness in Indianapolis is working to regain state Medicaid funding in order to help community members connect to services and get jobs.

Circle City Clubhouse, (formerly called Central Indiana Clubhouse) serves about 80 people with mental illness on the west side of Indianapolis.

They don’t host formal support groups or therapy here. Instead, every member has a volunteer job. On any given day, for example, one member might be helping others with job applications, another cooking, a third driving members to appointments, and a fourth facilitating the morning meeting.

And, they follow a code of standards. 

"It says all work in the clubhouse is designed to help members gain self-worth, purpose and confidence –it is not intended to be job specific training," explains member Sevella Perry. She says the group reads one section from its code at every meeting.

Perry joined the group last April.  She was 21 when she was diagnosed with undifferentiated schizophrenia.  She’s been in and out of hospitals, clinics, and classes.

"They give you medicine, they treat your diagnosis, the thing that they lack is a lot of compassion,” she says of her experiences in medical settings. But Perry says Clubhouse is different.

Clubhouse combines elements of a support group, and  a job-training program. Members help each other with applications for jobs, housing and education, make calls to check on members who haven’t shown up in a while, and lead classes on things like music. These activities are designed to help them build confidence and independence, and work on professional skill sets.

This Indianapolis clubhouse has been open for about one year. Staff and members follow a framework established by Clubhouse International, a non-profit organization that accredits such community based mental health centers around the country. 

Accredited Clubhouses have recorded success helping people reenter the work force -- a 60 percent higher job placement outcome than similar programs without this accreditation.

Medicaid used to fund approximately 20 clubhouse-like centers around Indiana. That’s until an internal study uncovered that many were operating drop-in programs and billing themselves as clubhouses, without following Clubhouse Internationals’  evidence based practices.  So, Indiana withdrew Medicaid funding for all clubhouses in the state.

Member Chuck Lynn remembers when his old clubhouse closed, in 2010. 

"I didn’t know where to go… I stayed home all the time and didn’t do anything," Lynn recalls.

Almost immediately, Lynn and others around the state started working at a grassroots level to raise money to bring their Clubhouses back, or keep the doors open. 

"Clubhouse is not a daycare,” Lynn says. “We have a work-ordered day that helps people get back to their lives."

Now, Indiana’s Medicaidagency has crafted a new code that will reimburse accredited clubhouses. Circle City Clubhouse is about halfway through the official process of becoming accredited.

Circle City Clubhouse Executive Director Jay Brubaker says the grassroots money they’ve been raising is not enough. He says having Medicaid funding would allow them to help more people, and says there’s significant need for this type of help in Central Indiana alone. With Medicaid funding, Brubaker estimates Circle City Clubhouse could serve 800-1000 active members.

Supporters say the Clubhouse model, which costs about $3,500 per person annually, will lower costs in the long run by helping people transition into employment.

Ricky Edwards began working at a local cleaner’s last November, after going through the clubhouse transitional employment program. At Clubhouse, Edwards gives music lessons to other members.

"I don’t give up on them because if they want to learn something, I take the time," he said. "I don’t give up on you." 

The Family and Social Services Administration cannot disclose the amount of Medicaid money accredited clubhouses will receive, but it has submitted the code changes and is awaiting approval.An unusual community center serving those with severe mental illness in Indianapolis is working to regain state Medicaid funding in order to help community members connect to services and get jobs.