Psychiatric Nurses Balance Their Own Mental Health

Hendricks travels all across the borough to “bring the hospital” to her patient’s homes. Photo Credit: VNS Health

By Iryna Shkurhan | 

Referred to by many as the backbone of healthcare, nurses are indispensable to the public health system and the wellness of patients. 

Those who work in the mental health field face a different set of challenges than general practice nurses who work primarily with patients experiencing physical ailments. For National Nurses Month in May, the Queens Ledger spoke to two nurses working in the mental health field outside of a hospital setting. 

Hycolyn Chamberlain is a Registered Nurse (RN) in the PROS Program at Transitional Services for New York (TSINY). The clients she works with have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness (SMI) such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or severe depression and are now in the process of recovery and rehabilitation. 

In 2021, there were 14.1 million adults in the U.S living with a SMI, approximately 5.5 percent, but only 9.1 million received mental health treatment in the past year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

“Sometimes what clients would say to you, as a nurse, they will not say to their psychiatrist, and they will not say to their social worker,” said Chamberlain. “So there’s this trust that they have with wanting to share what’s really going on with them and ask for ideas as to how they can live a better life.”

Clients in the outpatient PROS program are in stable condition and are learning how to carry on with their lives despite their diagnosis. The program assists them with overcoming barriers to education, housing, employment and socialization through daily, or weekly, visits to the Jamaica location.  

Recently the mental health field received funding from both city and state officials in New York following an increased awareness of the distress that people from all walks of life are facing, especially after the pandemic. 

In February, Governor Kathy Hochul announced a $1 billion investment in improving mental health treatment across the state. The plan included increasing the capacity of both inpatient and outpatient psychiatric facilities, while also expanding insurance coverage and creating additional units of supportive housing. 

The following month, Mayor Eric Adams announced a similar mental health initiative to invest $20 million to address the overdose crisis and specifically help people living with a serious mental illness. 

“Mental health is my passion. I really do enjoy doing what I do,” said Chamberlain, who works with people who are currently on medication for a SMI. 

On a given day she meets with 15-20 clients to administer medication, takes health assessments and runs labs. Once a week she also leads a medication group with a dozen clients where she talks about the dangers of mixing prescriptions with illicit substances and creates a space where patients can discuss the pros and cons of the medications that they are on. She reinforces the importance of taking medication consistently and what available treatment options are available.

“It’s not a cookie cutter situation, you have to treat all the clients as an individual. Mental illness is not the end of the road, there’s life beyond the diagnosis. It’s just a diagnosis,” said Chamberlain. “The clients can live fulfilling lives just like everybody else, with the proper support.”

Chamberlain immigrated from Jamaica 12 years ago and has resided in the St. Albans area since. For a period of time, she could not practice in the field while she waited to be certified. But in 2015 she passed the NCLEX exam, a national licensing exam to become an RN, and began her nursing career in the United States. 

After previously working at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, she knew that she wanted to work in the mental health field. She prefers her position now at TSINY due to the work-life balance it allows her, especially in a field that she says can be mentally draining at times. 

She finds that the traditional 9-5 work day model helps her create a work-life balance and find time for self care activities that benefit her own mental health such as reading, working out and listening to music. 

“They really look forward to seeing you every day,” said Chamberlain, acknowledging that her favorite part of the role is feeling appreciated by the clients. 

Collette Hendricks, a behavioral health nurse for VNS Health, also acknowledged that her favorite part of her job is receiving appreciation from her clients. 

“What I liked the most about it is building a relationship with them, and their families, in their own environment,” said Hendricks, who travels all across Queens to meet clients in their own home. “We kind of bring the hospital to them. They may not be able to get to a hospital, or they may not want to go to a hospital.”

On a typical day she will drive across Queens to see four to six clients in their homes anywhere from Far Rockaway to Astoria to Elmhurst. 

VNS Health is a nonprofit home and community-based health care organization that offers services such as home care, hospice care, behavioral health, caregiver support and community outreach. 

Hendricks is on the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, which is made up of psychiatrists, social workers, substance abuse specialists, family specialists and both registered nurses and nurse practitioners. To get placed on an ACT team, you have had to be hospitalized in a psychiatric facility at least six times in the past known as “rapid cycling” in the mental health field. 

“So I’ve never really felt any negative results against being a nurse, if anything, it’s always been very positive,” said Hendricks who acknowledged that it doesn’t have to be Nurses Month for her to feel appreciated in the field. “My reward is seeing them at the hands like you know, getting a job, going to school or just not having any hospitalizations for a long time.”

“I’ve gone through a lot of loss with family and I think that directed me into that way of healing, ” said Hendricks who is currently completing a masters in mental health and wellness with an emphasis on grieving and loss. “I found ways to cope and process my way through it. And I just feel like a lot of people do not know how to process that.”

In the future she hopes to open up her own mental health and wellness center that will offer support for those managing grief through coping skill classes. Through her own experiences, she has learned to see grief as a process that can ultimately be rewarding on the other side.

“I definitely rely on anything that I learned on my journey and I’m grateful for all the wisdom that it has taught me. It really does assist me in my everyday job and in my everyday life.”

Queens Home To Two New DOT Initiatives: Street Seats in Jamaica & Protected Bike Lanes on Queens Blvd.

Street Seats Installed on Jamaica Ave. and New Protected Bike Lanes on Queens Blvd.

By Alicia Venter

The new Street Seats on Jamaica Ave. Photo: DOT

Cycling and public safety initiatives by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) are being expanded into Elmhurst and Jamaica, the department announced on Wednesday, March 10.

In Jamaica, a new location of the Streets Seats program has been installed on Jamaica Avenue. between 160th Street and Union Hall Street. Approximately 4,500 square feet of pedestrian space has been added to the location, the DOT stated, and it includes planters, granite blocks, tables and chairs.

The Street Seats program has been implemented across the city. Partners apply to the initiative, and the DOT will attempt to reinvent the roadbed along the curb line or on wide sidewalks with seating. The partner selects the design and maintains the Street Seat. The crossing between Jamaica Avenue and Union Hall Street. was shortened as well.

The Downtown Jamaica Business Improvement District (BID) will be the partner managing the newest Street Seats.

“The newly expanded pedestrian space on Jamaica Avenue (between 160th St. and Union Hall St.) has been enhanced with planters, tables and chairs for use by our community. Thanks to the NYC Department of Transportation, we have a new, open space in our district,” the Downtown Jamaica BID shared in a statement to the Leader-Observer. “The pedestrian plaza will be programmed with activities and attractions over the next several months, in partnership with other community stakeholders, and we look forward to bringing attention and energy to the community, to benefit Jamaica’s businesses, its visitors, shoppers and residents.”

Across New York City, public spaces are being renovated to reflect the commitment made by Mayor Eric Adams in his 2023 State of the City, where he outlined a plan to invest $375 million to public spaces across the city.

“A crucial element to any thriving downtown is attractive and inviting public spaces. They help beautify, soften the streetscape, and provide a relaxing spot for shoppers and visitors, as well as people who work in the area,” said Justin Rodgers, president & CEO, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, in a statement to the Leader-Observer. “Enhancements like this along with efforts of the newly formed Downtown Jamaica BID will elevate the pedestrian experience in the heart of the shopping corridor.”

Along Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, the DOT has begun the process of hardening the protected bike lane with Jersey Barriers, which are used to separate lanes of traffic.

From 72nd Street to Grand Avenue — a 0.75 mile stretch — these Jersey Barriers will delineate the bike lanes from the traffic-heavy street in an attempt to make bike lanes safer.

In 2022, 3.7 miles of bike lane hardening was implemented on Queens Boulevard. This year, the DOT has committed to hardening 10 miles of existing lanes and five miles of new projects with sturdier barriers, they said in a press release.

Queens is the world’s borough, and delivering high-quality pedestrian spaces and safe cycling infrastructure are some of the ways Mayor Adams and New York City DOT are reimagining the use of public space,” said NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in a press release. “I thank the hard-working teams at DOT and our community partners for their efforts in beautifying Jamaica Avenue and giving cyclists the protection they deserve on Queens Boulevard.”

Corona Food Bank Cuts Ribbon in Elmhurst

4,200 Square Foot Brick-and-Mortar Food Bank Donated to Non-Profit

By Alicia Venter


As food insecurity continues to rise in Queens, the community stepped up to open a new food bank on Corona Avenue in Elmhurst on Thursday.

The Corona Food Bank, located at 92-21 Corona Avenue, is a 4,200 square foot facility that will serve as a food collection and distribution facility for Community Center Services Organization Corp. (CCSO), a volunteer-run nonprofit organization that has distributed foods, clothes and essentials to Queens residents and asylum seekers since 2020.

The facility will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ramos (left) and Argento (center) cutting the ribbon on the new food bank.

The building was donated by Broadway Stages at a 12 month no-cost lease. Valued at over $210,000, the facility has been modified to best serve as a food distribution center.

“It’s my honor to be able to do this,” said Tony Argento, founder of Broadway Stages, at the ribbon cutting. “To donate this space to provide necessities to people who are in need. I hope other well-off people who are doing lots of business here in Elmhurst and Corona can step up and spend some money, donate some money, and make this happen for people in need.”

Broadway Stages is a film and television studio production company located primarily in North Brooklyn. The organization “take[s] pride in being a responsible neighbor, actively supporting economic, social and environmental initiatives that benefit our community,” their website states. They are based in three boroughs across the city, and have more than 100,000 square feet of green rooftop infrastructure on their studios in Brooklyn.

“Thank you so much Tony for stepping up — for being a good neighbor… and doing the right thing, growing this pantry so that we can serve the community and everyone that has been going through a really hard time,” said Jessica Ramos, State Senator for District 13, which includes Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, at the ribbon cutting.

Argento noted that it was “the persistence” of the senator who made this happen, jokingly noting that it was her calling him every week that pushed the efforts forward.

Ramos also noted that the support of Latino Bites, a restaurant at 85-14 Northern Boulevard, and the volunteers, also made this food pantry possible.

“My neighbors have been hit hard by the pandemic and rising prices. Despite the tough times we are going through, people in this community have stepped up time and time again to care for each other, and to demonstrate what it looks like to welcome new neighbors with love and compassion,” Ramos said in a press release. “I’m so grateful to the Argentos, Latino Bites, and all the volunteers who make CCSO possible. I foresee this being so much more than a food pantry. The energy around this location is going to make it a valuable community space that we can be proud of.”

Grand Marshals Announced for Forest Hills Memorial Day Parade

By Alicia Venter
From Left: Mike Arcati, Joseph Connely, Mary Kehoe, Kevin Kehoe, Robert Schnell. Front: Anthony Sarro
  The grand marshals for the Forest Hills Memorial Day Parade were named on Friday at the American Legion Continental Post #1424. The parade, which will be on Sunday, May 28 beginning with an opening ceremony at 11 a.m., will be led by five notable members of the community who have each shown exemplary service in different ways. “This is a point where we take the opportunity to thank our community and veteran heroes,” said Mike Arcati, commander of the American Legion Continental Post #1424. Parade organizers are having their annual VIP Donors Kickoff at the West Side Tennis Club (1 Tennis Place) on Thursday, May 25 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. This event allows us to honor past grand marshals and introduce this year’s Grand Marshals to the parade sponsors,” said Walter Sanchez, president of the Kiwanis Club of Forest Hills. The grand marshals are: Community Service Grand Marshal: Robert Schnell Veteran Grand Marshal of the Year: Anthony Sarro Of the Year: Joseph Conley Law Enforcement Honoree of the Year: Kevin Kehoe First Responder Grand Marshal of the Year: Mary Kehoe Anthony Sarro, who will be 94 in July, served in the Korean Conflict a leader of the explosive ordnance disposal team, and was selected as a veteran grand marshal. “I’m not egoistic about it, but I do consider it an honor and it feels good,” Sarro said in an interview with the Forest Hills Times. “You get a little change in perspective of yourself. You feel a little more proud of yourself — without being egotistical.” “If you don’t know what team leader was in the 1950s, those were the Seals before we had Seals,” Arcati said of Sarro. “The Seals teams didn’t start until the 1960s. What these people did was go underwater and diffuse bombs and torpedoes, one of the most dangerous jobs in the service.” Sarro recalled his favorite war story during his speech: when he found the wedding ring of the wife of a fellow service member after she dropped it in the ocean. “I found a mussel sold down here, and I flipped it aside. As the saints would have it, low and behold, there was the ring,” he said, adding that, “Other than that, we blew things up and made a lot of noise.” Sarro’s son, Anthony Sarro Jr., is very proud of his father, attributing who he is to his father, describing him as “an enabler of good things.” “He is a people person. He entertains, he cares, he is wise and is funny,” Sarro Jr. said. Robert Schnell, 61, is the community service grand marshal of the year, and is part of a running list of volunteer organizations. Deemed the mayor of Forest Hills, he is a ​​Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus, first Vice President of Lions Club International and former president of the Men’s Club of Forest Hills. He is notably involved in numerous organizations devoted to the protection of military dogs. After reading a novel called “Top Dog,” Schnell realized the impact that dogs have had both in their service in the military and to the veterans. He volunteers with the Military Working Dog Heritage Museum, K-9 Hero Haven, Military Working Dog Team Support Association — which supports military K9s and their handlers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard — ​​Leashes of Valor and the US War Dogs Association. Schnell holds the nickname “Mr. Dog,” as his devotion to the protection of war dogs stands alongside him in the American Legion Continental Post #1424 with a wall he ensured would be erected which displays honorable military dogs with their handlers.
Robert Schnell, Mr.Dog, by his wall of war dogs.
Having a service dog drastically helps those leaving the service, drastically reducing veteran suicide, Schnell shared. “The alarming thing is that the war continues and rages on for veterans that are back with us,” Schnell said. Veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than nonveteran adults, according to the American Psychological Association. According to the most recent Annual Report from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs in 2022, the average number of veteran suicides per day in 2022 was 16.8. “When you see a veteran, please say thank you for your service and ask them how they are doing,” Schnell said, “They may give you the conditional, ‘okay, I’m doing alright,’ but maybe they will open up to you.” Joseph Connely was selected as a grand marshal for his military service, which began when he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. He was selected to be part of the Army Security Agency, whose​ primary mission was to locate Viet Cong transmitters operating in the south. “I was 20 years old when I received top secret crypto clearance. People around me were 19 and 20 years old, and had top secret crypto clearance. We’d never thought of anything like this.” Connely served as Chairman of Community Board 2 until 2014. After 40 years of combined law service with the NYC Transit Police Department, NYC Corrections Department and the NYPD, Kevin Kehoe has been selected as the law enforcement grand marshal of the year. He is currently a lieutenant of investigations at the Queens District Attorney’s Office. A military family — including a father who served in the Korean conflict — gave Kehoe an immense value and appreciation for the military. Holding this position in the Memorial Day parade resonated with him on a personal note. “It’s probably the biggest honor in my life, being selected to represent the law enforcement community as a whole. Not just for New York City, but for New York State and for the country,” Kehoe said. Over 20 years of experience, Mary Kehoe will stand beside her husband as the first responder grand marshal of the year. She is currently a public health nurse as P.S. 101, starting her career as a cardiology nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Born in Ridgewood, Kehoe moved to Forest Hills at age seven. “To see the memorial day was always the greatest time. The people, the community, families, all out together. For me to be a grand marshal in this parade I’ve grown up with is absolutely unbelievable. I thank one and all for allowing me to do this. It’s very special to me.” Her father was one of four men who served in the military, and the American Legion Continental Post #1424 was always an important spot for her. “It was always a soft spot in my heart,” she said. Kehoe is among one of the people that helped save the legion when it almost closed in 2018. They have hosted four fundraisers to help support the legion.

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