Fidelis Care Welcomes Dr. Celeste Johns, Medical Director, HARP
Can you tell us a bit about your background and career?
I joined Fidelis Care after almost 40 years of clinical practice and administration. After training in New York City, doing research in Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia, and beginning clinical practice at Long Island Jewish-Hillside Hospital, I moved to rural Central New York 32 years ago. My clinical work settings have included adult inpatient psychiatric units, consult-liaison services, and general outpatient psychiatry and addictions medicine clinics.
I’ve always been drawn to work with vulnerable populations. More and more patients were coming to the emergency department with substance-related psychiatric and medical issues. Pregnant women were struggling with opioid dependence in themselves and in their newborns. Frankly, people were dying. Despite this, no local physicians were taking on these patients or using treatment approaches such as Suboxone, so I agreed to begin work at the County Addictions Recovery Clinic. I loved that work, and that led to my decision to pursue advanced training and certification in addiction medicine.
What made you decide to join Fidelis Care?
I wanted to complete my career doing something that could improve the lives of my fellow New Yorkers on a larger scale. I have always taught students that the practice of psychiatry and addiction medicine is an incredible gift. We are given access to the deepest hearts and secrets of our fellow men and women, and are trusted to respect, honor, and heal. There are too many people who do not have access to basic, dignified, state-of-the-art mental health and addictions care. If I can do a small part in extending services to more New Yorkers, I will feel as though I have given back some of what I have been so generously given and taught over my lifetime of work.
What are your thoughts about the issue of stigma in mental illness?
Isn’t it apparent that we all struggle with, or know people who struggle with, issues ranging from depression to anxiety to psychosis to unhealthy substance use, to various degrees? These issues do not define us any more than diabetes or broken legs define who we are. None of us was born with a manual telling us how to get through life successfully, healthily, and happily. When we have problems, it is natural to ask for help, and getting help for mental health issues is no less important, and should be no more shameful, than getting help for any other medical condition.
Can you share some of your successes with us?
The treatment of individuals with “mental illness and addiction” is really the treatment of individuals with hopes and dreams, families and jobs, foibles and successes, unbelievable hardships, and moments of grace. I could tell you stories of leaders of the community and of our neighbors – teachers and doctors, mechanics and chefs, stay-at-home parents, travel nurses, and operators of complex machinery – all of whom live their lives fully while having histories of mental health and addiction treatment as well as ongoing treatment for chronic, but not life-impairing, mental health conditions.
I’ve treated adults with developmental disabilities who have moved from institutionalized settings for containment of outbursts and anger to group homes and even independent living with meaningful relationships and activities including singing in a church choir, shopping at the mall, and volunteering at a local soup pantry. And I can tell you stories of men and women who lived on the streets, who now have safe places to live and who can live a dignified life in a shared community with all of us. Each story of success, of “recovery,” is different. Mental health treatment at its best is patient-driven and takes each individual down their own path to their own goals and their own best lives.