EUNICE KUSHMAN - A TRUE CHAMPION FOR MENTAL HEALTH
It’s safe to say that Eunice Kushman leaves lasting impressions on most everyone she encounters. Over the course of her long career as an advocate for individuals with mental illness, she has succeeded in capturing the attention of friends, neighbors, colleagues, legislators, and just about everyone she’s had a chance to meet, and motivating them to act. In doing so, she has helped to change the course of mental health care in San Mateo County and has positively impacted the lives of countless individuals with serious mental illness.
Last month, after 32 years of service on Caminar’s Board of Directors, Eunice announced her retirement. At the board meeting, Adrienne Tissier, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, presented a resolution congratulating Eunice on her retirement from the Caminar board, as well as for her years of dedicated service, as past president of NAMI San Mateo; director and past president of the San Mateo County Mental Health Board; and numerous other leadership positions, locally and nationally.
Eunice first became involved in the mental health arena when her son began therapy as a nine year-old. She took him to various specialists who couldn’t give her a clear diagnosis. It wasn’t until her son was in high school that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It was a period of time when thousands of individuals who had been institutionalized in state mental facilities were being released with little or no support system in the community. It was also a time when parents, particularly mothers, were blamed for schizophrenia, and were also told that total separation was better for their children’s prognosis.
When Eunice and her husband, Bernard, sought a support group, they were referred to Tony and Fran Hoffman, who had just started a group called Parents of Adults with Schizophrenia. What was initially a vehicle for sharing stories of their challenges soon turned into a grass roots movement that sought to change public policy and increase funding and awareness of schizophrenia. They traveled across the country to spread the word on the need for policy change and increased funding. The efforts ultimately led to an era of dramatic advances in understanding, treatment, and research of schizophrenia and a national organization that is now known as NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Throughout much of the last half century, Eunice has been driven by her desire to help break the stigma and obtain more assistance for individuals with mental illness. She wrote countless letters to editors. The late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Art Hoppe responded apologetically to one of her letters in which she cited the common misuse of the word “schizophrenic”. She spoke in front of the City Council to advocate for the opening of Eucalyptus House, Caminar’s transitional home in Daly City, a proposition that was initially met with a great deal of opposition by residents who were concerned with its proximity to a park.
In 1991, Eunice’s efforts to garner public support for realignment, which would move much of the funding for mental health to the counties, ended successfully. She also worked unremittingly on Prop 63 (Mental Health Services Act), going door-to-door, speaking publicly, and advocating at countless gatherings. After the proposition was passed in 2004, she continued to work; this time on the steering committee to come up with a plan on how the county would distribute the funds.
As Louise Rogers, Deputy Chief of the San Mateo County Health System, reflected, “Eunice was involved in shepherding through some of the most significant changes in community mental health: realignment, managed care, and the Mental Health Services Act. She has been a tireless advocate with a gift for politely and persistently continuing to make her point on behalf of consumers and families long after everyone else grew weary! We thank her for dedicating herself to this work and helping us to transform the mental health system.” Likewise, Caminar thanks Eunice for her years of service and leadership in guiding the organization to where it is today, and for helping to advance the understanding and acceptance of mental illness.