The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health has recognized MHA’s Samantha Gulsvig with the Stephanie Moulton Memorial Award. The honor was presented April 24, 2019 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, MA, during the Stephanie Moulton Symposium, an annual event organized by the Department of Mental Health which presents information, resources and best practices regarding safety and risk mitigation for people involved in the care of persons with a mental health diagnosis.

Gulsvig is a Human Rights Officer for MHA and a direct care staff member for MHA’s Safe Haven residential program. The program offers transitional housing support to people served by the Department of Mental Health who are experiencing homelessness and mental health challenges. Gulsvig has worked at Safe Haven since its inception in 2016, playing an integral role in developing the structure and providing exemplary care to the people served.
“When I joined MHA three years ago, I hadn’t worked in years,” Gulsvig explained. “MHA gave me the opportunity to start a new career in my 40s. Through churches I had done a lot of volunteering with people who were homeless or underserved. I did street outreach with people where they were at, providing someone to listen to them, feed them, clothe them, or whatever they needed. I got into the trenches and it became a passion. It’s a complete blessing that I’m able to do this as my career.”

“It is a well-deserved honor for Samantha to be recognized with the Stephanie Moulton Memorial Award,” said Kimberley A. Lee, VP Resource Development and Branding for MHA. “Much like first responders or police officers, people working in mental health choose their career to help others, and it’s important to keep the discussion about safety out in the open. MHA provides support for people who may have severe mental health illness, so we want our employees who care for them to be prepared for the unexpected. We’re always working to increase safety awareness, and the Stephanie Moulton Symposium is an important annual forum that combines training, resources and support so mental health direct care staff can be safer on the job.”

Stephanie Moulton was a bright 25-year-old social worker from Peabody, MA. In 2011, killed by a resident of a mental health program where she worked. The Stephanie Moulton Symposium is an annual event held to honor Moulton’s life and memory by providing practical training for direct care workers in the mental health field, in particular for identifying and mitigating risks associated with behavioral health conditions.

“I’m not naïve to the fact that dangers do happen,” said Gulsvig. “The Stephanie Moulton Symposium has brought so much awareness and insight to the topic of safety in our field. Even through Stephanie’s tragic death she continues to contribute so much to what we do and how we do it. You have to know your surroundings, trust your gut, have an emergency plan, and have additional staff to help so you don’t put yourself at risk. In the helping professions we focus on the other person, but we really do need to moderate risk to ourselves. MHA is really good about training. I feel well prepared regarding safety and de-escalation. When I got a call from the Department of Mental Health in Boston to say that I’d been nominated for Stephanie Moulton Memorial Award and that I won, I was pretty shocked. I haven’t won anything since I won a sack race in 5th grade. It’s exciting to receive this honor, of course, but I am truly humbled to be honored with an award in Stephanie’s memory.”

What is Gulsvig’s advice for someone who feels called to serve others by working in the mental health field? “Absolutely do it. Do your due diligence and know what you’re getting into, because it’s not always happy endings. But that one person who succeeds makes the work worth it. I value each person and I value life in general, so I think everyone deserves to live their best life. If I can be part of that and help them, I’m honored. And to be able to work for an organization with the resources to do it, it’s just awesome.”

About MHA:
MHA is a nonprofit provider of residential and support services based in Springfield, MA, providing services throughout the Greater Springfield area to people impacted by mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance abuse and homelessness. Our core values are Respect, Integrity and Compassion.

MHA has 400 full- and part-time employees and serves more than 600 participants annually. We operate dozens of residential sites, as well as extensive outreach and supported living programs. MHA receives state and federal funding from multiple sources including the MA Department of Mental Health (DMH), MA Department of Developmental Services (DDS), MA Department of Children and Families (DCF), MA Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), the MA Department of Housing and Community Development (DHDC) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

MHA was founded in 1960 by concerned citizens to provide advocacy for people with mental illness living at Northampton State Hospital. Throughout the deinstitutionalization movement MHA developed a continuum of housing and support options to participants with a wide variety of needs. Our services reflect the belief that everyone deserves quality affordable housing, the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential and the support to pursue their personal vision and meaningfully participate in the life of their community.