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Reliance Health notes 45 years of serving the local community

Peggy of Taftville said she doesn’t know if she would be alive today if it wasn’t for Reliance Health.

When she was 12, she became catatonic and was hospitalized for 13 days. Between 1999 and about 2015, she was in and out of various psychiatric treatment centers for this condition or others: bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia.

“They (Reliance Health staff) were a big part of getting me well. They do a lot of things that are based on wellness. It’s all a big part of the puzzle,” said Peggy, 34, referring to good nutrition, proper sleep, therapy and medication she receives from Reliance Health’s advanced practice registered nurse, and guidance from her recovery assistant.

She also quit smoking, which has lessened her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease symptoms. She asked for her last name to be withheld due to privacy concerns.

“Reliance Health is celebrating 45 years of enhancing health through mental wellness,” Development Director Nicole Reynolds stated in an email.

She noted that the agency was founded in April 1976 as a drop-in center for patients of Norwich Hospital. It now serves about 1,500 people throughout eastern Connecticut and employs more than 250. It has a range of residential and community-based programs and mental health services.

Initially known as Reliance House, its name was changed in 2016 “to better connect the name with the services it provides,” Reynolds said.

In the past few years, Reliance Health has purchased a building at 2 Cliff St. in Norwich. The Morosky Building, named after Reliance Health founder John Morosky, houses programs including homeless outreach, employment support, social clubhouse, supported education, recovery coaching, case management and outpatient therapy.

“The Morosky Building has provided Reliance Health the ability to expand its service offerings over the past five years,” Reynolds noted.

Prior to the pandemic, Peggy said Reliance Health transported her and other clients to the grocery store and to appointments.

They also taught her to ride the bus. Over the years, Peggy said she has enjoyed many “excellent” recreational activities such as weekly community meals, going to the beach or out to dinner, shopping, or walking at the park or track. Additionally, she likes socializing at Teamworks Clubhouse on the third floor of the Morosky Building — where individuals can play card games and ping pong and make crafts.

Relaxation classes and therapy groups also meet here. Because of COVID-19, however, she said only virtual activities are being planned right now.

Evangeline S. of Norwich, who also wanted to withhold her last name for privacy reasons, has been on a 20-year journey. She started to cut herself in the spring of 2001 while involved in Norwich Technical School’s intense 14-month licensed practical nursing program for adults. She also learned of a family member’s death over one month after it occurred. By summer break halfway through the program, she had a nervous breakdown while living with her mother and stepfather in Sterling.

“It turns out I’m bipolar. So I was having my manic episodes, my depressive episodes — going back and forth. I ended up being hospitalized because I hadn’t slept in two days, said Evangeline, 41, adding she experienced about 30 hospitalizations in all.

She received therapy and medication through Southeastern Mental Health Authority’s Brief Care Program at Uncas on Thames campus in Norwich, which she described as a step down from the hospital.

“Through them, I ended up with what’s called a dialectical behavioral therapist, which helped teach coping skills to not cut anymore,” she said. “Trust me, that does not happen overnight. That took quite a few years and a therapist that was very patient with me.”

Evangeline moved throughout different levels of care that Reliance Health offers, from a group home setting to being in her own apartment with staff support.

Afterward, she moved to traditional housing for eight years. When her roommate died, she said Reliance Health staff helped her quickly sort through issues of finding a new apartment with nearby public transportation.

She also utilized the agency’s education services for help with math and their employment services for assistance with creating a resume and preparing for job interviews.

Evangeline left the nursing program and successfully completed Three Rivers Community College’s Pharmacy Technician Program and is now working at a pharmacy. She said she feels honored that her former teacher asked her to speak with his current class on Zoom about “real-life examples” in retail pharmacy and answer their questions.

“It’s been a long road, but I’ve finally gotten there. And looking at me, you would not know my history, so not all disabilities are visible. Looking at somebody, you don’t know the journey they’ve travelled. Even if you know the journey they’ve traveled,” you’re not walking in their shoes, said Evangeline, a member of Reliance Health’s Board of Directors.

For the last five years, Peggy said she has not exhibited any signs of bipolar disorder. However, she continues to take her medication.

“It’s like I am a different person. I love to socialize. I love company. I love being in crowds. I’m so outgoing.” She added, “I would be so lonely. I’d be so deprived. I’d be so unhappy if I didn’t have the joy, comfort and love” Reliance Health offers.

Reliance Health Chief Executive Officer Carrie Dyer said the word “love” was used very openly by John Morosky and retired CEO David Burnett.

“And that was always the crux of what we do. We create genuine relationships with people and then that’s what you build upon. When you can really get to what it is that motivates a person and what they truly want in life, then that’s your golden ticket to then help them see that and see how they can get there.”

Dialing 211 in Connecticut is “your gateway access to the Coordinated Access Network to see what’s out there for you. It’s this sort of magical matchmaking of what an individual needs, what’s available and let’s make it happen,” said Dyer, who has been with Reliance Health since she graduated from college in 1994. Prior to becoming CEO in 2019, she worked as a case manager, program supervisor, service director and chief operating officer.

Luckily, since pay phones are no longer readily accessible, she said there are programs that offer free phones to those who qualify. Contact your current phone service or Assurance Wireless at 888-321-5880 or assurancewireless.com. Or, dial 211 in Connecticut for assistance.

Currently, Reliance Health is putting the finishing touches on its Wellness Center in the Morosky Building. Grant money from the Edward and Mary Lord Foundation “was tremendously helpful” in their “being able to take the vision that we had for that basement space and turn it into a reality. It’s amazing the transformation,” Dyer said.

In addition to offering yoga, Zumba, art therapy, professional development and meeting space to those served and employed by Reliance Health, she said this space will also have a large shower, washing machines and a career closet.

“So if a person comes in to get assistance from our homeless program, and they’d like to take a shower, they can do that.”

Reflecting back on the many bright, artistically talented clients from all walks of life that Reliance Health has helped over the years,

Dyer said, “It’s stunning,” and taking the time to get to know people is “so worth it.”

For more information, go online to www.RelianceHealthInc.org or call 860-887-6536.

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