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BRAIN WAVES

Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Blog

Marisue Garganta Still Helping People Help People

When you’ve spent decades raising money to address and improve the unmet physical, social, health, and psychological needs of those who have slipped below the radar, what do you do for an encore?

For Marisue Garganta, Director of Communications Health Integration at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital Medical Center, retirement isn’t an option. Instead, she continues to consult and assist with various organizations and take her seat on boards. Her newest, and perhaps most encompassing, endeavor is serving on the prestigious 38-person Brain Health Advisory Council for the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona.

“The solutions are right before us; we just need to get out of the way. One person really can make a difference. Approximately 80% of what I do is collaborate and connect. People don’t know what’s available for them.”

Marisue Garganta Still Helping People Help People

When you’ve spent decades raising money to address and improve the unmet physical, social, health, and psychological needs of those who have slipped below the radar, what do you do for an encore?

For Marisue Garganta, Director of Communications Health Integration at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital Medical Center, retirement isn’t an option. Instead, she continues to consult and assist with various organizations and take her seat on boards. Her newest, and perhaps most encompassing, endeavor is serving on the prestigious 38-person Brain Health Advisory Council for the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona.

“The solutions are right before us; we just need to get out of the way. One person really can make a difference. Approximately 80% of what I do is collaborate and connect. People don’t know what’s available for them.”

While at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Barrow Neurological Institute, she oversaw the Dignity Health Community Grant program, which included the Brain Injury Alliance as one of the funded Communities of Care Projects. This close collaboration increased her understanding of the importance of integrating health, social, and mental health needs both in and out of the healthcare system for survivors of traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Dena Baldwin, owner of Go Big! Enterprise, a local non-profit and organizational development consulting firm, has worked with Marisue for over a decade. She says Marisue talks a lot about the importance of filling in necessary gaps. According to Dena, “If we allowed Marisue to retire, she would become an unappeasable gap in our community. Her heart, wisdom, and relationships make Arizona a healthier and happier place to live!”

In her current role as “non-retiree,” Marisue sat down with Brain Injury Alliance Communications Director Ed Roth to share her worldview, especially her passion for the homeless. She says while others think of them as criminals, she calls them “neighbors without doors.”

What do you see as the number one reason for homelessness?

MG: This misunderstood group has unmet health and social needs. Working with the Brain Injury Alliance, we’ve been able to integrate their services with the homeless. We don’t analyze why, but we do know that physical or psychological needs aren’t being met.

Many individuals who are facing difficulties with remaining housed are suffering from undiagnosed and untreated traumatic brain injuries. Diagnosing and treating their TBI may be the answer to ending many homeless individuals’ inability to care for themselves.

What are local programs missing?

MG: In 2011 and 2012, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, along with its community partners, looked at what the Corporation for Supportive Housing’s Frequent Users Systems Engagement initiative (FUSE) was doing at jails and in the Los Angeles community. The Arizona FUSE initiative quickly realized that it would not be able to begin its integration within the criminal justice system.

However, it would work closely with developing a close connection to the health and social needs of those being released, as well as those who were experiencing long periods of homelessness and complex, unmet health needs. The key takeaways from FUSE I and II were that if health needs were not met, then social and emotional needs could not be met. Healthcare is housing and housing is healthcare!

Does anybody you’ve assisted stand out to you?

MG: We had one patient come to the ER 280 times. Every time, he gave his address, but he was actually homeless. We discovered that was the case when he wouldn’t show up because he was injured. He had been hit by a car and developed a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and it was hard for him to follow directions. Turns out he was living in the hospital garage and his address was of an abandoned place across the street from the hospital.

Once we were able to diagnose him appropriately and get him the healthcare he needed, he was able to work toward the goals he set for himself. Individuals living with a TBI take time and have their successes and setbacks. This gentleman was no different, but together with the right treatments and support, he was able to be housed and employed.

Was this a typical situation?

MG: In many ways, yes. He once had a family and a great job, but the TBI forced him to lose both. He developed substance abuse issues and was on the street for a long time. With the help of the Brain Injury Alliance and Ability 360 and an array of community partners including health providers and housing providers, by the time I left the hospital, he was connected to those who could help him be successful.

That happened rather suddenly.

MG: We’re all just one brain injury or catastrophe away. We need to listen to people on the street, our neighbors without doors. There’s going to be an enormous aftermath of COVID and environmental issues. This is our opportunity to improve our health and human services to meet the growing needs within our community.

What is the long-term remedy for improving conditions for those in need?

MG: The solutions are right before us; we just need to get out of the way. One person really can make a difference. Approximately 80% of what I do is collaborate and connect. People don’t know what’s available for them. There’s so much clutter in today’s media, we need to stick with the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Stupid!

When you’re in a crisis, you shut down. When you’re hungry, all you think about is where your next meal is coming from. So, we need to think about infrastructure differently. It all starts with easier, more affordable, and greater access to healthcare. We must take care of basic health needs. Together we can figure this out

Doesn’t that begin with greater understanding?

MG: You know, I hope people will walk with a homeless person for 15 minutes. They’d be shocked by what they learn. I hope we’re not afraid to take this step and show compassion to our neighbors in need.

What challenges are many non-profits currently facing?

MG: COVID-19 has revealed many gaping holes. For instance, we rely too heavily on non-profit organizations (NPOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to do the heavy lifts. Right now, they’re all trying to find partners to stay afloat. Unfortunately, most waited too long to ask for help and it may no longer be there.

How do they resolve this situation?

MG: I believe they should work together filling gaps for what their clients need. By working jointly, they don’t have to compete for the same shrinking dollars. Collaboration is the key to sustainability.

At this point, would you consider yourself a glass half-full type of person?

MG: COVID will pass. Bad things happen for better things to take its place. I say be kind and thoughtful. I hope we continue to help each other. It’s all about selfless acts of kindness. I have such great hope for our community and the world. Together we will conquer these seemingly insurmountable challenges; alone we will fail.

Three words to live by?

MG: Kinder. Better. Stronger.

ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF ARIZONA

The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members and professionals.

What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.

The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona:

  • Works with Congressional Brain Injury Task Force
  • Houses Arizona Brain Health Resource Center
  • Hosts Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Workgroup
  • Has Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Response team with peer support, training, and family wraparound services
  • Facilitates Brain Health Advisory Council
  • Manages statewide Neuro Info-Line: 888-500-9165

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