For a second year in a row, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has signed a legislative proclamation, declaring May 25 – 29, 2020 to be Hoarding Disorder Awareness Week.
The legislative Proclamation came into existence due to the diligence of Eileen Dacey,(MSW, LCSW), Program Manager and Clinical Specialist for the North Shore Center for Hoarding and Cluttering at Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore. Karen Sullivan, (LCSW), Clinical Specialist, is Eileen’s work partner “in all of this and our program would not be as successful as it is without her hard work, advocacy, and determination.”
Both Eileen and Karen provide clinical support, crisis management and Karen leads three support groups for the program.
When Eileen first applied for the Proclamation to be declared, it took two and a half years of her requests to grant the Proclamation finally in May of 2019. She wanted to guarantee that it be ongoing so dutifully reapplied this year by again reaching out to Constituent Services at Governor Baker’s office. Her request was responded to immediately this time.
There are only three states that have a legislative proclamation, which recognizes a hoarding disorder awareness week. Washington was the first state which when Eileen discovered contributed to her pursuing a proclamation for Massachusetts. Massachusetts became the second state and Minnesota has followed suit.
The language of the Proclamation remains the same as it was last year. Although this process is still in its infancy, the hope is that the Proclamation will lead to discussion at the State House level and a clearer understanding of why this Proclamation exists and why it matters.
Eileen is often asked about success stories regarding hoarding disorders. “As a clinical social worker treating hoarding, I have to ask how we define ‘success.’ We have to focus first on the internal processes behind the behavior and not the physical. You will meet resistance if you focus on the physical. I want to look at whether or not there are changes in one’s core beliefs. Can someone change their acquiring habits, decrease rigidity, let go of things? Are we increasing safety and functionality for someone living in their residence?” That is where the success will lie.
From last year’s Proclamation to where things are now, there has been more task force development in the state. More community providers are recognizing that we should do something collectively, acknowledging past attempts which have been unsuccessful, and exploring what might work better.
“It is encouraging to hear from people in different avenues saying what we are doing isn’t working but I don’t know why but I know something has to be done about it. This is what I think we can do to start changing. It is my hope to change the discourse on a community level. The narrative is shifting. That is an accomplishment.”
Eileen is also very pleased that New Hampshire just last week passed Bill HB 1449. The bill defines animal hoarding under hoarding disorder and proposes post-conviction a person may require psychological evaluation and mandated psychological treatment. Before this bill, defendants were charged; animals were seized without any judicial recognition of an existent mental health issue.
Eileen herself was invited to testify before New Hampshire legislature in support of this proposed bill on animal hoarding. It was an accomplishment since no one from a clinical standpoint was going to be talking about why this bill is important. She provided additional supplemental material to the House of Representatives following her written and verbal testimony. The bill will go to Senate next and Eileen will be providing further testimony.
Rep. Howard Pearl, the bill’s sponsor, said people with mental illness too often end up ensnared in the criminal justice system.
“Animal hoarding disorder is a particularly complex mental health illness requiring a multidisciplinary approach given the individual’s inability to acknowledge their animals’ neglect and suffering,” said Pearl, R-Loudon, at a public hearing earlier this week. “Seizure of the animals and criminal prosecution alone is an insufficient response in these situations.”
“Seizure and prosecution often leads to repeat offenses, because those responses only address the symptoms of the disorder, said Eileen Dacey, who runs the North Shore Elder Services’ Center for Hoarding and Cluttering in Massachusetts. But therapy that includes maintenance programs after initial recovery is often successful, she said.”
North Shore Center for Hoarding and Cluttering at Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore is the only program in the state dealing with pet hoarding. Eileen is passionate about the topic. She recognized years ago that programs were not addressing animal hoarding. There is not a lot of information in terms of literature on the topic and nothing about what treatment might work. Eileen started doing her own investigation into animal hoarding and taking the pulse of different practitioners and resources about their opinions and knowledge.
Eileen got a call from Massachusetts Animal Coalition 2017 to present at a conference on animal hoarding. She was hesitant initially because she did not consider animal hoarding her area of expertise; until she questioned why she was separating animal hoarding from possession hoarding. After this talk, she was more motivated than ever to educate herself and the public on the topic of animal hoarding.
She collaborated with a legislative analyst with the American Kennel Club on discussions over a Massachusetts bill (Paws II). www.arlboston.org/legislators-pass-paws-ii-bill-formal-session-ends/. Governor Baker had signed that bill in August 2018 and a commission was formed to discuss mandated reporting as it pertains to animal abuse. Senator Joan Lovely was one of the commissioners and invited Eileen to sit on the commission as an advocate, expert, and educator in the area of animal hoarding and hoarding in general.
Since then Eileen has consulted on various cases. Referrals are not as prevalent as possession hoarding. People who hoard animals will be more reluctant to self-refer than those who hoard objects. Some may say it is an animal welfare agency concern as opposed to a human service issue. Effectively stopping animal hoarding means we have to focus on not just the animal piece but also the human behind it. Forgetting the mental health piece and the high rate of recidivism will not lead to success in decreasing animal hoarding.
“Our mission is to find ways to decrease animal suffering. New Hampshire is now on the map for their passing of Bill HB 1449. There is a lot of push and pull about the topic of animal hoarding.This happens with policy advocacy. It is a process, which has to start somewhere. It doesn’t mean you give up.”
Congratulations to Eileen and Karen for their dedication and hard work for the North Shore Center for Hoarding and Cluttering at Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore. It is another milestone accomplishment.
Jayne Girodat is the Communications Specialist at Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore, Inc. Along with ten years in the position of Caregiver Support Specialist at another ASAP, Jayne was a long-distance caregiver to parents for the same amount of time. That experience serves as motivation to better understand the issues of aging and to engage people in conversations about those issues. Jayne’s background in teaching contributes to her appreciation of social media as a tool to educate readers on aging concerns. “I love asking people questions. Everyone likes to be heard. When you ask and then listen, you’ll find everyone has a story and some of those stories are gems. I think it is particularly important to hear the voices of our older adults. Those are the stories I really connect to and hope to bring to North Shore Elder Services’ audience.”