Jewish Family Services works holistically | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Jewish Family Services works holistically

During one recent morning, Cristy Corso was having the latest in a series of crippling panic attacks that caused horrible chest pains, a result of medication she was taking as she went through aggressive chemotherapy to battle lymphoma. Instead of enduring it alone, the 45-year-old called her case worker at Jewish Family Services. 

“She had COVID, so we did a Zoom meeting and some yoga,” said Corso, who has been a client of the Comprehensive Community Services program at Jewish Family Services since July 2022.  

“It’s become my family and my rock,” said Corso, who also suffers from the lasting effects of a brain injury caused by a car accident a decade ago that left her hospitalized for two years. “It’s just a showering of love, care and professionalism.” 

Corso is one of hundreds of people who have taken advantage of the organization’s Comprehensive Community Services, a free Medicaid entitlement program that offers various services to adults and children in Milwaukee County. The program takes a wider, more complete approach to the wellness of a person who has a mental health or substance abuse diagnosis, rather than focusing on any one or narrow aspect of their challenges. This can include efforts related to housing, physical health and, yes, yoga.  

“It is making the world a better place … and a sense of responsibility and looking at it as an obligation to our Milwaukee community,” said Sara Corey, Jewish Family Services Director of Social Services, noting that clients are not required to be Jewish. 

The program’s requirements are simple. Prospective clients need to have a mental health or substance abuse diagnosis, and for it to impact their life. 

Prospective clients also must have insight and awareness to their barriers and to their symptoms so that they can be an active participant in their services, Samantha Kovatch said.  

“Because this program is completely client- driven, they decide who, what, where, when and why,” said Samantha Kovatch, the Comprehensive Community Services program administrator at Jewish Family Services.  

For example, Kovatch said, a Milwaukee County woman was struggling with schizophrenia and hallucinations. She was also not taking her medications, on the verge of becoming homeless, and  jobless. She became isolated from friends and family.  

“Someone from the hospital referred her to Comprehensive Community Services and we met with her,” Kovatch said. “That’s kind of the baseline of what someone could be experiencing to be referred into our program.” 

The program at Jewish Family Services is part of a network of Comprehensive Community Services   programs that Milwaukee County has overseen since 2015. Jewish Family Services is one of 10 care coordination teams across the county that also includes 60 ancillary providers within the network.  

About 2,100 individuals are currently being served within the network, which has seen a three-fold increase in the number of clients since 2017.  

“That has grown substantially over the last eight years,” said Beth Lohmann, the Comprehensive Community Services administrator at Milwaukee County Behavioral Health. “We continue every year to support more…we keep going up in our numbers.”  

The need for the program across the county may be linked to violent crime, homelessness, substance abuse, overdoses and incarcerations, which are in turn linked to mental health crises. 

“It’s talked about more, so people are reaching out for services. They are getting the things that they need. Comprehensive Community Services is a perfect program for that because it really meets people where they are at and provides traditional therapeutic services,” Lohmann said. “It offers some very unique services that helps someone on that pathway to recovery while looking at the entire wellness of a person.” 

Jewish Family Services’ Comprehensive Community Services is designed to have a network of services available to clients that they can pick from, depending on their mental health or their substance abuse diagnosis. Services could range from traditional therapy to arts or music therapy. Some services, such as equine therapy, are offered through a network of other providers throughout the county.  

“Jewish Family Services has done a really good job being a partner whether it’s a partner with us at Milwaukee County, or a partner with families or other Comprehensive Community Services agencies,” Lohmann said. “Everyone has to work collectively to see this program work.”  

Other services, which all tie back to mental health and substance abuse, include peer support, housing, financial management, nutrition, yoga, fitness and physical health monitoring. In addition to helping clients with mental health illness or substance abuse, the program is also set up to assist in job searches. 

Clients set their discharge criteria when they enter the program, empowering them in terms of what they want to accomplish and their goals.  

“There are, during the month, regular check- ins both with the client and also with all the service providers,” said Kevin Boland, vice president of programs and services at Jewish Family Services. “We are helping them meet those needs or meet those goals that they’ve helped set.” 

The free program, which began eight years ago, currently has about 95 clients with the potential to have as many as 110.  

“We know the need is out there,” Boland said. Clients “go on to very happy, productive lives and we’re able to be a part of supporting them to do that.” 

The program is built so that when demand increases, staffing can increase, Kovatch said. Although the need exists, the program, one of the largest of its kind in Milwaukee County, is underutilized, Boland said., He’s hoping to get the word out about its value. 

“People choose JFS because of our good reputation and good foundational Jewish values of responsibility and obligation to our community,” Corey said.  

Jewish Family Services’ Comprehensive Community Services program also takes the pressure off police departments, inpatient psychiatric hospitals and emergency rooms across the county.  

“It’s helping people be proactive in their recovery so that they don’t get to the point where they need those higher intensity services,” Kovatch said.  

Another benefit is filling jobs, a positive for both Comprehensive Community Services clients and businesses across Milwaukee County. 

“We have lots of jobs to fill in the community. We can help with supporting individuals who’ve been having a barrier for one reason or another,” Corey said.  

Kovatch said her best days are when she can find someone who is facing a housing barrier a place to stay for the night, especially those who are sick or fragile.  

“That to me is a good day,” she said. “You just worry about what you’re going to walk into tomorrow because everything could be great today. But tomorrow, you never know what’s going to happen.”