Trillium Family Services is Oregon’s largest provider of mental and behavioral healthcare for children and families. From residential psychiatric treatment to mental health advocacy in the streets, Trillium is committed to transforming our state into a safer, more supportive place for ALL people to live, work, play and learn.

This ongoing employee spotlight blog series features some of the many caring, talented people it takes to Keep Oregon Well at Trillium Family Services!

Trillium Family Spotlight on: Carrina McNerney

What is your role and title at Trillium?

My title is Senior Business Analyst. I wear a few different hats, as we all do.

How long have you been with the organization?  

Over 12.5 years!

Why does mental health matter to you?

So many reasons! Mental health *is* physical health, and we don’t (usually) have to explain why our physical health matters to us. Mental health matters because brushing it aside means stigma, and stigma keeps us from getting help for challenges both big and small.

What made you want to work at Trillium initially?

I had an experience with a family member with really severe behavioral challenges, and liked the idea of working in a setting where this experience wasn’t so foreign. And on a practical level, I had graduated from college two weeks prior, needed a job, and thought I could be useful in the on-call position I applied for. Then I went back to school for geeky left-brain stuff, and stayed because of my amazing managers and the allure of using new skills to support our work.

What are some of the reasons you continue to believe in this work?

Although I have never been a direct care provider, I have witnessed such a huge change over the years in how we work with and think about the families of the individuals we serve. I have also witnessed shifts in the way that we treat each other. These shifts give me hope that growth and change are possible for everyone, even big systems.

Tell me about a time when you felt that Trillium had truly made a difference in someone’s life?

My work doesn’t always lend itself to uncovering anecdotes. However, I love it when direct care staff choose to share “bright spots” in meetings so that we can all celebrate the successes of our clients and staff.

How would you describe trauma-informed care to someone who had never heard of it?

First, I would mention something I heard from Dr. Sandra Bloom when the organization was first dipping its toes into trauma-informed care several years ago. I’m paraphrasing, but she cautioned that the word that the English language has landed on for “trauma” isn’t necessarily up to the task of describing everything that we mean when we talk about it. We worry that we’re being too dramatic when we use it to describe “little” instances of trauma, because that same word also has to describe catastrophic events and abuse history. It’s okay to use the word to describe the “small” stuff, too – it doesn’t mean that we’re equating all experiences of trauma. It’s just that our vocabulary options are imperfect. After that caveat, I would go with what we learn in our introduction to the Sanctuary Model. Trauma is what happens when you find yourself without adequate internal and/or external resources to deal with a real or perceived external threat. Trauma-informed care – and a trauma-informed workplace – understands this response, and develops its practices with the acknowledgement of trauma as one explanation when human behavior doesn’t appear to make sense.

Has Sanctuary changed your experience of working at Trillium?  If so, how? 

Definitely. Sanctuary isn’t a promise that we’ll never reenact organizational trauma, but the commitment to shared language helps us call out situations when we are reenacting or behaving in unhealthy ways. Often there’s no easy solution, but at least we can be kinder to each other as we stare the problem down.

If you could only tell the world one thing about the work we do here at Trillium, what would it be?

We save lives, and we try to care for each other, too.

This is kind-of an awkward question, I know…but I want you to take just a moment to brag on yourself and the work you do. What are you most proud of having accomplished during your time with the organization?

I would like to think that there have been times when my work has allowed decision-makers to tackle a problem using a new approach, or using tools they didn’t know they could get their hands on. For example, once I wrote a simulation to try to predict how long it would take us to get our entire workforce through the Sanctuary 101 trainings. In retrospect, it was complete overkill and took way too long – but hey, it was fun and ended up being fairly accurate.

Any interesting facts that you’d like to share?

My karaoke interpretation of Carly Simon’s “Coming Around Again” has been generally well received. Soon it will be time for me to begin teaching my craft to a new generation – once my eleven-month old stops climbing the furniture for a moment!

Do you have any advice for people looking to become mental health advocates or explore a career in behavioral health?

Well, as an indirect care staff working in this field, I think my advice to other non-clinicians would be – don’t be afraid to learn a little bit about trauma theory, because you will definitely learn it on the job, whether you realize it or not! You don’t really have a choice, because the work that we do ripples through the entire organizational system. So, get comfortable with it, and accept that you’re a part of it. The cool thing is that this means you are part of great care and great outcomes as well, through the work that you do in your corner of the world.

During all of our community meetings at Trillium we close with an inspirational or thought-provoking quote.  To close our chat today, do you have a favorite quote you would be willing to share?

“Hold your values lightly, but pursue them vigorously.” – Russ Harris

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