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O'Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center

Governor's Award for Excellence

O’Berry is proud to employ several winners of the coveted Governor’s Award of Excellence, the highest honor that the Governor bestows.

2010 Winner: Mr. Jonathan Hall, Health Care Technician I

If you question Jonathan Hall, Health Care Technician, about his extraordinary ability to connect with the individuals he cares for, he will tell you “It’s just my job” and he will have little more to say about his many accomplishments. But still waters run deep in this quiet and humble man.  Jonathan’s remarkable skills revolve around how he helps developmentally disabled individuals living at O’Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center develop more fulfilling lives. He works in a group home with men who have very challenging lives, most of whom have been dually diagnosed with developmental disabilities and mental illness.   Jonathan’s special talent with these men which is described below demonstrates and exemplifies the quote, “See everything; overlook a great deal; correct a little” – Pope John XXIII.

Jonathan has volunteered to serve as a “Champion” to several of the men in his group home, supporting them, teaching them, advocating for them, and then sharing with others what he has learned.  Being a great champion is an aspiration that is very difficult to achieve for many health care technicians, and the difficulty often lies in the complexity of the issues of the individual being cared for.  Jonathan has a unique ability to speak the things that the individuals assigned under his care would want to say if they were able to speak for themselves.  Jonathan does not impose his personal opinion or what he thinks is good for the individuals, instead he strives to help others see and honor the individual’s perspective.  These ingredients in just the right balance and proportion make Jonathan a very special technician, capable of developing positive interpersonal relationships with our special individuals. One individual who has thrived under Jonathan’s caring tutelage is Gunther.  

Gunther has a diagnosis of autism with the associated ritualistic and obsessive compulsive behavior and also mild mental retardation. His parents explained that about the time he was 15 years old he began to have hallucinations and delusions. Psychosis was added as another diagnosis. Gunther heard the radio and television talking to him. He had intense feelings of dread, fear of something terrible happening to his family and fear of hurting himself. He became very aggressive and would hit, kick and choke people. When he became overwhelmed with emotion he would run away from wherever he was. He experienced a number of family moves, failed private residential placements and psychiatric hospitalizations. A long list of medications were tried to control his behavior and to help him find peace but none were successful. If he was left alone, he would run away or there was fear that he would hurt himself. When he was with people, he hurt them. He was described as out of control.  As a result he had almost no experience of how to be on his own or how to be independent.

In early 2005, at the young age of 22, Gunther came to live at O’Berry directly from a psychiatric ward of a hospital.  It was clear that he would need constant one-to-one supervision and it probably felt like a last stop to Gunther and his family after several very difficult years of failure.  But good things began in Gunther’s life at O’Berry, especially after he met Jonathan, a Health Care Technician I, who worked in his new group home. The two of them just “clicked”.  To hear Jonathan tell the story, they had a lot in common. They were both very tall and thin, they both had mothers that are teachers and they both earnestly wanted to please their mothers. Jonathan believed this eye to eye level made it easy for him to see what is going on with Gunther without the need to hover all around him.

But Jonathan understates his skill and the reason for the connection, for it goes far beyond his story.  Through his careful assessments and gained insight, Jonathan was able to discover that Gunther had the tendency to escape everyone’s judgments by running away and that rituals and compulsive behaviors helped Gunther feel more comfortable.  While these rituals and compulsive behaviors always made other staff members anxious, Jonathan realized that it was just a part of whom Gunther was and how he coped with life.  He truly understood the importance of looking more closely at the person to find the things that mattered most to Gunther; what made him laugh and what gave him peace.  He also recognized that Gunther had the most difficulty when he felt that no one understood him or when he missed his family.   Jonathan formed a special relationship with Gunther. One key reason is that he just let Gunther be Gunther. Jonathan says that working with Gunther has taught him that learning how to get to know a person is the lesson. That has been a life-changing experience. 

Jonathan’s observations and insights were shared with the team and this helped everyone to have a new perspective and to become more open and comfortable working with Gunther.  This helped the Team to develop programs that were encouraged by Gunther’s parents’ advocacy. An effective behavior plan was developed that focused on how to talk to Gunther and how to deal with a wide variety of his feelings and life circumstances.  Gunther actively participates in individual and group therapy. He has learned deep breathing and self talk as better ways to relax and cope. Understanding Gunther has led the Team to more effective medication management.

Gunther’s challenging behaviors have decreased drastically and he is now able to talk through his feelings instead of running or hurting others. His supervision level has decreased and he is independent in his home because Jonathan has taught others the simple lesson that Gunther is just like anyone else, he wants and needs independence and to feel successful. He has taught others to listen and not judge and that if Gunther tells you that he misses his family; stop and listen. Providing your undivided attention lets Gunther know that you understand and it reinforces his worth and makes him feel valued. Jonathan’s efforts have led the way for Gunther to have a life changing improvement in his quality of life.  More good things lie ahead for Gunther and the other individuals touched by Jonathan.

Jonathan Hall’s outstanding contribution to the advancement of service offered to individuals who live O’Berry Center achieves the level of excellence that takes him to a level above the rest.  His unique interpersonal skills with the individuals at our center build upon the high principles we strive to maintain at O’Berry, DHHS, and within the State of North Carolina. 

2009: Mary Garner and Versa Stevens, Health Care Technician I’s

On December 15, 2008, Ms. Mary Garner and Ms. Versa Stevens responded to an emergency situation at O’Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center.  In the early morning hours, a dryer within their group home caught on fire. As the only two employees on duty, they were responsible for caring for nine profoundly mentally retarded and severely disabled individuals who were sleeping in their beds in the home at the time.

It was bitterly cold outside. Temperatures on that night dropped to a low of 28 degrees Fahrenheit.   Although under pressure and with minimum staffing, these ladies kept their composure and properly reacted by working as a cohesive team to successfully wake up and direct these individuals from their separate bedrooms, out of a smoke filled group home with sprinkler systems activated to safety, prior to assistance arriving.  By the time that outside help arrived on the scene, Versa was assisting the last individual out of the home, while Mary was monitoring the others on the outside.  This all occurred within a two to three minute timeframe.  Then with the assistance of Larry Mack, the administrator on duty at the center, they quickly obtained coats, gloves, hats, and shoes for all of the individuals, and moved them into another group home. 

In any environment, this quick time frame for evacuation is commendable.  The potential reactions from individuals who are profoundly mentally retarded and severely disabled made the efficiency of their actions extraordinary. To get these individuals to successfully respond in this emergency, they had to maintain a sense of normality and continuously project calm composures when waking and directing these individuals.  Due to the very nature of their handicaps, these individuals require significant support and direction to successfully respond to a request to evacuate.  The employees provided this critical direction, carried out a flawless evacuation, and then remained with the individuals to ensure their safety.  They did not consider their own health issues or the risk to their own lives, but instead unselfishly focused on ensuring the safety of those they served and loved.

With fire trucks roaring and numerous others around, they said repeatedly, “I just did my job.” Their love and devotion was demonstrated through their positive attitudes which caused a chain reaction of positive thoughts (We must get the individuals out!), events (Expediting evacuation of all individuals in less than two minutes!), and outcomes (All were safe and free from harm!).  Their heroic attitudes were the catalyst that created these extraordinary results.

2008 Winner: Tracy Dawson, Health Care Technician

Driven to go the extra mile, Tracy Dawson demonstrates exceptional commitment to the residents of O’Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center. She believes the individuals that she supports deserve a rich and diverse quality of life that celebrates person-centered planning. That belief shines through in her work as a Health Care Technician and her drive to do the very best for the people that she serves.

Two years ago, Dawson was assigned to one of the center’s most challenging group homes – a home for those who are profoundly developmentally disabled and also exhibit serious psychiatric and medical issues. One individual in this home, Watson, has a particularly challenging and unusual combination of conditions; along with being developmentally disabled, he is also bipolar. Manic episodes render Watson physically agitated and in constant motion, resulting in his inability to eat or drink. In the past, dehydration resulted in extended hospitalization requiring heavy sedation and intensive care to allow him to break the manic cycle.

Working with Watson, Dawson began to understand that his limited verbal skills require special treatment and she stays constantly in tune with the smallest changes in his behavior. This increased awareness has been instrumental in reducing the severity and length of Watson’s manic episodes. One major enhancement Dawson has made in Watson’s life is devising and implementing a technique to ensure adequate hydration, a technique the facility now uses with other individuals.

According to his physicians, Dawson’s devotion to Watson H. has prevented his manic episodes from escalating and has lessened his suffering. Tracy Dawson showed compassion and creative thinking, greatly enhancing the quality of life of Watson and other individuals at O’Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center.

2007 Winner: James Atkinson, Human Relations, Health Care Technician

James Atkinson began working at O’Berry Center in 1996. A year later, his supervisor asked him if he would work exclusively with an individual named Tim. Tim came to O’Berry in 1965 at the age of 6.  He arrived at the Center with profound intellectual disabilities and a seizure disorder; his life was further complicated by severe visual impairments, an extremely unsteady gait, and limited communication skills. For over 30 years, Tim presented the staff with many challenges and was often described as defiant, restless, and self injurious.

As James worked closely with Tim, he discovered Tim was attempting to communicate many things nonverbally. He learned that Tim’s head positions told a lot about his mood and what he wanted.  With James’ insight and care, Tim’s life improved significantly and his frequent self-inflicted injuries faded into history. 

After years of working with Tim, helping other staff members recognize how Tim communicated, and watching Tim’s quality of life blossom, James felt compelled to help other individuals who had special needs.  With conflicting feelings, he transferred to another group home, but made a personal commitment to keep in contact with Tim by becoming a Campus Friend.  Shortly after the transfer, James became ill and was diagnosed with leukemia. While he was on extended leave receiving treatment, he was informed that Tim had been hospitalized and was diagnosed with terminal renal failure. At the risk of his own health, James went to Tim’s side at the hospital.  While James was still out on leave, he requested a transfer back to Tim’s group home so that he could continue to provide care and companionship to Tim during his final days.  Although Tim’s health continues to deteriorate, he has James close by to support and care for him.

James’ outstanding contributions toward enhancing Tim’s quality of life clearly demonstrate the true meaning of human relations. 

2006 Winner: Mr. Curtis Graham, Health Care Technician II

Curtis Graham stands out above the rest in his role as a Health Care Technician at O’Berry Center.  This is not an easy achievement, because our Health Care Technicians are committed to providing the highest level of care for the individuals who live at O’Berry.  Because of the exceptional manner in which Curtis responds to the most difficult behaviors displayed by individuals who live here, he is the first technician that unit administrators think of when assigning an employee to work with these individuals.

This past year, our Center has become home to an increased number of individuals with volatile behavior issues.  Dually diagnosed with developmental disabilities and mental illness, these individuals respond with violent outbursts, kicking, hitting, biting, and continually attempting elopement. Under Curtis’ guidance, these individuals have greatly improved their ability to modify these behaviors. Arriving out of control, they will stabilize quickly under his gentle and unfailingly positive direction.  Even under the most challenging situations, Curtis never raises his voice but maintains an easy going manner that individuals respond to intuitively. 

Over the years, Curtis Graham has been very influential in helping individuals with behavior issues transition back into the community. Of those individuals who have come to the center over the past year, already one has successfully returned to the community and several others are approaching this important milestone.  His ability to successfully implement the plan of care developed for these individuals has been crucial to this transition. In addition, his willingness to go the extra mile when working with the home in the community during this transition has helped to increase these successful placements.  Not only does he travel with the individual who is being placed into a new home, Curtis sometimes remains at the home for days to help ease the transition for that individual. He has willingly and unselfishly dedicated the extra hours needed to ensure the success of the plan of care for these individuals. 

Curtis Graham is respected by all:  his peers, management, and most importantly by the developmental disabled individuals who live at O’Berry Center.  We have one dual diagnosed individual who is insistent that his mentoring and guidance be provided by Curtis over other talented Health Care Technicians assigned to the area.  Curtis is an employee who is always supportive of the team decisions and eager to provide input to ensure a successful plan of care.  His level of skill and quality of service are known throughout the campus.  Curtis is routinely called upon by other clusters when help is needed on behavior intervention.  His intervention is always received as non-threatening by individuals who live at O’Berry.  Many times he can intervene in a behavior situation without having to use more restrictive interventions that technicians are taught to use in the North Carolina Intervention (NCI) training. 

Curtis also serves as an excellent role model and mentor to newly hired Health Care Technicians.  New employees thrive under his guidance, effectively acclimating to the home, its individuals, and O’Berry Center.  On days when he is shift leader, the home always operates like a group home supervisor was present. 

Curtis Graham’s outstanding contributions to the advancement of service offered to individuals who live O’Berry Center reflect a credit to him, the Center, and the State of North Carolina.  His level of excellence, his continual unselfish devotion to duty, and his extraordinary level of commitment to the developmentally disabled individuals who live at O’Berry Center build upon the high principles we strive to maintain at O’Berry, DHHS, and within the State of North Carolina.