United Counseling Service medical director recognized by international health organization

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BENNINGTON — Out of 12 selected individuals across the country, United Counseling Service (UCS) Medical Director Alya Reeve has been designated by the fellows of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and will be recognized for her efforts at the organization's 140th annual meeting in Atlanta, June 6-9.

On a daily basis, she sees four to 10 patients at UCS, provides training to the staff, attends meetings and meets with people who are receiving support as well as communicates with a hospital and community psychiatry group, which consists of medical directors of agencies across the state. The group meets every other month to share notes and policy updates.

"I was surprised to feel so honored," Reeve said. "I helped write the last two definitions for mental retardation and intellectual disability and was part of the writing team and contributed a chapter on mental health."

The nomination requires three letters of recommendation from other fellows that get reviewed by the committee and board members, Reeve explained

"The honor means that they recognize your contributions have merit in the field," she said.

Reeve sought her position last year at UCS, taking over for Catherine Hickey and after working in the University of New Mexico's (UNM) neurology, psychiatry and pediatrics department. The honoree has over 20 years of experience in the mental health sector and has made numerous contributions to the field.

"In the current healthcare climate, funding is a major issue and retaining well-trained staff is a challenge," she said. "We respect our workers and provide a supportive environment so that they can develop meaningful relationships with the clients."

While in New Mexico, Reeve developed an outreach program to work with people in the rural communities and helped change the way that clients were assessed and treated. She worked with practitioners who were seeing people with disabilities and interviewing patients side-by-side.

"I got people to move beyond to the traditional way of assessing clients and begin to accept information from multiple different sources," she said. "The collaborative collegial consultative model worked with practitioners and looked at how to support a particular person in the community. I looked at how to do it better; a collaborative of recognizing the relationship between the university and the community and their services to figure out what works."

According to the AAIDD, members of the fellowship can be considered as a nominee for the award after seven years of continuous enrollment. Other honorees include members from the University of Delaware, Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Oregon, Catholic Charities of Archdiocese of Newark, Vinfen Corporation of Connecticut, American University Washington College of Law, Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, Oklahoma State University, the University of New Mexico and Inclusion Innovations.

Reeve said she was surprised to receive the award considering those she got to know over the past 15 years who worked to prevent inmates with intellectual disabilities from being places on death row, peers who have come up with different styles of evaluation and people who re-looked at neuropsychological testing as well as "examined the cultural components that influences diagnosis and learning opposition during development."

"This is a very professional organization and to be recognized is an honor," she said. "I'm glad to have gotten it and allow them [AAIDD] to see me in my position now. People who label would say it's [UCS] a small place, and it is, but that's where change happens — with real people on the ground who are important and valuable."

The AAIDD was founded in 1876 and is the oldest professional association that regards intellectual and developmental disabilities. The organization advocates for the "equality, dignity, and human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and for their full inclusion and participation in society."

Reeve enjoys being a part of the AAIDD and admires its multidisciplinary nature the most. She said it allowed her to explore areas of her field that she hadn't before, like education and communication.

"I had no exposure to individual education plans or 504 plans that happened in school systems and from learning from people I come to understand what the strategies are and make it work for people and communicate my findings," she explained. "It's not helpful to keep in our medical jargon. You have to translate it to better English. It comes down to if people could understand things, then change could happen. It helped me to be much more open in how I was trying to communicate and to receive input from other people."

—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.


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