Longtime Bert Nash case manager never lost passion for the work

Scott Criqui News & Notes

Diane Werner has been doing case management work at the Bert Nash Center for 22 years. And no two days have been the same.

Which is one of the many things she has liked about the job.

“There’s no typical day,” Werner said. “It varies from day to day. It’s never dull.”

Werner’s last day at Bert Nash is June 18. She’s moving on to become a residential housing specialist for HOPE House (a housing program for people who recovering from addiction) and working with the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority’s Resident Services, assisting people with accessing community services to maintain independent living.

She’s enjoyed her time at Bert Nash, working with people who have severe and persistent mental illness. Not that case management is easy. Far from it.

“My 22 years at Bert Nash have been challenging and very growth producing, to say the least,” Werner said. “When people ask me, ‘How do you do it? How can you work with that population so long?’ I let them know that my coworkers are the best, and I could not do it without their love and support.”

For more than 20 years, Werner has remained passionate about doing case management.

“The work is interesting,” she said. “And I enjoy the clients that I work with. There are some very lovely and delightful people, and they’re very appreciative. They just need some support and guidance.”

Case management can be difficult work and progress can be slow. But it can also be extremely rewarding.

“I really like seeing when people make progress,” Werner said. “The hardest part of the job is when people are really symptomatic and you’re trying to assist them, but they don’t want to accept any intervention, even though they are clearly unstable. That can be very challenging. But I see people get better, if they want to work at it.”

Case management is a voluntary service available to Bert Nash clients. It is the role of the case manager to assist the client on developing a treatment plan and to help the client come up with his or her own recovery goals.

Werner would meet with three to five clients a day. Her caseload has been holding around 25. She has one client she had worked with for 17 years. But, on average, she works with a client for three to five years.

“As people get better and they’ve met all their case management goals, they graduate from case management,” Werner said.

For a case manager, it is imperative to develop a relationship with the client.

“The No. 1 thing is to have a good relationship and that the person you are working with trusts you and is willing to talk about things,” Werner said. “If you don’t have a trusting, healthy, safe relationship with your clients, you don’t have anything.”

Many if not all of Werner’s clients have experienced some form of trauma. She’s heard many sad, heartbreaking stories from clients over the years. But she’s also seen people get better, learn new skills, gain self-confidence and become more independent.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with all kinds of different people, from all walks of life, and I’ve seen how they survive,” she said. “These people have more survival skills than I do.”

Werner has been working with people with severe and persistent mental illness since 1983. Throughout her career — 10 years working in psychiatric hospitals and 25 years in community support services — she always remembered something her mother used to say.

“She said if you can give people five minutes of kindness and relief, that’s five more minutes than they had,” Werner said. “I still think about that. Sometimes there may not have been much I could do for someone, but I could be kind.”