Retiring crisis intervention chief proud of CSO programs

  • Nick Fleisher Photo courtesy of CSO

Staff Writer 
Published: 7/8/2020 2:13:37 PM

For the past 16 years, Nick Fleisher has served as vice president of community-based services for Clinical & Support Options (CSO), leading staff members in nonviolent crisis interventions every week in Hampshire and Franklin counties. As a leader in the region for behavioral health support, Fleisher, a 40-year resident of Northampton, is now looking back on his career after retiring from the job last week. 

“Running the emergency service program for CSO in Greenfield and in Northampton, those two programs, have been probably the biggest challenge of my career as well as the most exciting one as well,” Fleisher said. 

Fleisher joined CSO to help operate the crisis program in Greenfield. In 2010, CSO was awarded a state contract to create a second crisis program in Northampton, he said.

“We pretty much started a new crisis program from scratch with six weeks’ notice — a 24-hour service. We were fully staffed and up and running on time. That was definitely a very significant challenge,” he said. 

Crisis intervention involves behavioral and mental health specialists working with other community entities such as hospitals and police departments, Fleisher said. CSO is called in to help youths or adults who need support by a clinician, and can involve developing a crisis assessment of a person, psychiatric consultation, referrals to behavioral health services or possibly urgent psychopharmacology intervention, according to CSO’s website. 

“A crisis service is a collaborative program intervention that has to work with doctors, law enforcement and health care providers in all kinds of places,” he said, adding that people go into crisis not just in hospitals, but at home or in public places. “Crisis services only work when all these services are working together and collaborating as a team. We don’t work alone. We’re working with community providers of all sorts.”

Fleisher has been the CSO liaision to Baystate Franklin Medical Center, Cooley-Dickinson Hospital, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, and local police departments, according to CSO.

Karin Jeffers, president and CEO of Clinical & Support Options, who has worked with Fleisher for the past 15 years, said Fleisher was “integral in establishing a program that allowed us to expand.”

Jeffers said Fleisher’s approach to crisis intervention is all about connecting with people on a human level.

“He’s such a unique leader because he has the skill of being able to be a really solid administrator, but without ever losing connection to the people that he serves,” Jeffers said. “He could be working on a policy manual but still have his pulse on knowing exactly who is in his programs and cases by name.” 

CSO and colleagues in crisis intervention throughout western Massachusetts are responsible for answering emergency calls for people in distress. According to a CSO press release, the organization handles nearly 5,200 emergency cases annually. 

“Every single day of the week, I see my staff make a difference in people’s lives and often save lives. It’s not an occasional thing. Quite frequently their interventions are making a difference in saving lives,” he said.

Fleisher highlighted the advances made during the past decade and a half for crisis intervention in the Pioneer Valley. Crisis intervention is “much more community-oriented” and focuses on more outreach. 

“Hospitals and police have both advanced and grown tremendously over the last 15 years that I’ve been doing crisis services,” he said. “They’re much more attuned to behavioral health clients and mental illness, and understanding the needs of people with mental illness need a different approach.”  

Fleisher has lived in Northampton with his wife, Peggy, for the past 40 years. He’s a master’s level graduate of Smith College School for Social Work and has an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Rochester in New York. Fleisher said he first became interested in crisis intervention while working near Boston. 

“My pre-graduate experience working at a state hospital for children in Waltham shaped my interest in deinstitutionalization and nonviolent crisis intervention,” Fleisher said. “I have had a passion for crisis work ever since. I know that major mental illness is very treatable. Having person-centered, positive, hopeful environments makes a huge difference.”

Fleisher plans to advocate for improving the ways in which behavioral and mental health care is addressed in society during his retirement by connecting with local legislative officials.  

“Integration of behavioral health and the medical health care system is absolutely the direction that things have to go,” Fleisher noted. “In order to achieve that, we need to have outstanding collaboration between community mental health and health care systems and hospitals and law enforcement.” 

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, crisis intervention has had to adapt to changes such as socially distancing, he said. 

“As a result, we have developed a telehealth capacity that has allowed us to do 30% of our work using telehealth technology in the community and in local hospitals,” he explained. “We’ve become adept at using iPads, computers and iPhones to reach out to people, and it’s been extremely effective. Our clients have been very receptive to using it.” 

Fleisher has been succeeded at the agency by Jennifer LaRoche, who was named vice president of acute and day programs for CSO, according to the agency. LaRoche previously served as regional director for Boston-based behavioral health company Beacon Health. 

“We’re going to miss him tremendously,” Jeffers said. “In addition to being a solid, smart clinician, he brought a sense of humor to our workplace every single day. And has been an integral part of this team for 16 years. Not only do we appreciate everything that he’s done and wish him the best of luck in this new chapter in his life, but we’re going to really miss him.” 

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com. 


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