On March 23, Elizabeth Ford, MD, joined CASES as its Chief Medical Officer. With two decades of psychiatric experience in both jail and hospital settings, Elizabeth brings a unique perspective to the clinical components of CASES’ programs. And with the organization and its clients grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, her experience could not have come at a better time.
Elizabeth came to CASES after serving as the Chief of Psychiatry for Correctional Health Services at NYC Health + Hospitals, where she oversaw psychiatric services at Rikers Island. She worked in this role for over five years, during which she improved psychiatric practices helped reduce suicide rates at the jail and served as a national model for correctional mental health care. Elizabeth previously served as the Director of the Division of Forensic Psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital Center, where she was responsible for the inpatient forensic psychiatric units at Bellevue, Manhattan Assisted Outpatient Treatment, and the Manhattan and Bronx court clinics providing competency to stand trial evaluations.
It was these experiences treating people’s psychiatric needs at various stages of their criminal justice involvement that drew her to CASES.
“My experience is working with people in institutional hospital and jail settings, and I want to bring that perspective to CASES’ work in the community. It’s really important when taking care of patients who have potentially traumatic experiences that you try as best you can to understand who they are and what they’ve been through,” Elizabeth said. “I come from a doctor’s perspective, meaning the patient’s best interest comes first, and that includes working with the patient and finding out what they think.”
Jessica Klaver, PhD, CASES’ Senior Director of Behavioral Health Services, said that Elizabeth’s experience working within the various medical, psychiatric, and social service systems that intersect with criminal justice will help CASES integrate a continuum of forensic outpatient behavioral health services supporting both client success and public safety.
“The clinical leadership component of her role will take CASES to a new level in terms of clinical best practices. As Chief Medical Officer, she has a bird’s eye view of all the clinical services happening across our continuum of programs,” Jessica said. “That perspective, combined with her experience working at the intersection of the behavioral health and criminal justice systems in institutional settings, makes her the ideal partner in identifying how CASES can continue to serve people who are slipping through the gaps at this intersection.”
That clinical leadership has already been put to the test. Starting on her first day, Elizabeth took a role in CASES’ response to COVID-19 and has been working with staff from across the organization to develop protocols around personal protective equipment, in-person medication administration, and planning for crisis situations.
“One of the great things about CASES is that everyone is so mission-driven. Our staff so desperately want to take care of their clients, but there are obviously risks in a situation like this,” she said. “I started having conversations with as many people as possible about the challenges. Then, on my third day, we began talking about giving some standard guidance to the staff that would help them feel safe and allow them to do the really important work they were doing.”
Since then, Elizabeth and other senior staff have held a CASES-wide town hall to field COVID-related questions from staff, which ranged from questions about PPE to how to cope with loss. She has also begun a twice-weekly online class for staff on “Mental Health Law and Emergency Room Psychiatry.”
Joel Copperman, CASES’ Chief Executive Officer, said this kind of interdepartmental leadership was a sign that Dr. Ford’s experience would positively impact all of CASES, not just its medical and psychiatric services.
“CASES is unique in that it takes a clinical perspective on dealing with all the pervasive issues in criminal justice that affect our clients. Dr. Ford’s experience and new position as Chief Medical Officer will help all of us connect the dots between programs and give our clients the most comprehensive care,” Joel said. “This will not only ensure our clients are cared for but will also ensure our staff and the programs they work so hard on are being utilized to their full potential.”