Early this year, BHCHP’s Behavioral Health team welcomed Lael Morris into the new position of Domestic Violence (DV) Program Advocate. Lael, who has 25 years of experience working directly with communities of high need such as those experiencing homelessness, will be the frontline support and resource person for our patients who are survivors of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking. Although BHCHP staff have consulted with patients in the past regarding DV resources, Lael is the first person to take this new role that specifically addresses these harrowing challenges, often cited as primary drivers of homelessness in our society.
“Everything I do is completely confidential. It’s safe with me.” As a survivor of domestic violence herself, Lael knows firsthand the value of creating a safe space for survivors to access support and resources. Bringing with her a dynamic skillset honed over decades of working with marginalized communities, Lael offers a range of services to our patients such as counseling, connection to DV resources, education on domestic violence and intimate partner violence, creation of safety plans, accompaniment to appointments, and more. Above all, her lived experience enables her to offer patients real understanding of their experiences and to skillfully and with deep compassion, accompany them through their unique challenges. Lael emphasizes that patients often carry with them a deep sense of disappointment and distrust of the care system and thus it is vital to remind them that there is real hope in changing their circumstances.
Since the advent of BHCHP’s integrated care model, our behavioral health clinicians have helped patients experiencing domestic violence and intimate partner violence to access necessary support services. Among the clinicians present at BHCHP, Georgia Thomas-Diaz, Director of Respite Behavioral Health, is at the helm of our ad-hoc DV support system for patients. As shelters became over congested during the pandemic and survivors were left with limited choices regarding where and whom to live with, the need for DV support among our patients increased dramatically. To meet the pressing demands for DV support among our patient population, Georgia advocated for the creation of the DV Program Advocate role with BHCHP’s senior leadership. Although funding for this work remains scarce, the demand for it is high. We currently have one full-time professional working in this new role but hope to expand the team in the near future.
Since starting her position in January of this year, Lael has already worked with over 90 individuals. In order to meet patients where they are, she travels to our many clinic locations and also provides long term follow up based on need and interest. On top of psychosocial support, we also provide transportation and food vouchers, money for emergency sheltering in hotel, and care kits containing basic toiletries. Additional funding would allow us to purchase more life essential items for these vulnerable patients and support our existing infrastructure for DV care and support. In the near future, Georgia hopes to train more staff to perform screening assessments of DV patients to help more patients. Though this work would be daunting for most, Lael sees joy in helping domestic violence survivors overcome their difficult situations. She says that it helps knowing that she has the full support of the whole BHCHP staff. She remarks, “Doing this work is important. It makes everything I’ve been through that much more valuable. It hasn’t been in vain.”