ThisWeekinWorcester.com’s Person of the Week
WORCESTER – There aren’t many 24-year-olds that find themselves battling at the front line of an addiction epidemic, in the throes of a neighborhood confrontation, and at the cusp of what looks to be an encouraging start to a promising career.
But, Elizabeth Armitage isn’t like many 24-year-olds. In fact, the way “Liz” carries herself is that of a professional many more years her senior.
Armitage, a graduate of Notre Dame Academy in Worcester and University of Massachusetts- Dartmouth, is the Marketing and Business Development Manager at the Washburn House – an addiction recovery center located on Main Street in Worcester’s Webster Square area.
“I am the marketing and business development person at the Washburn House, but I don’t really like that term. It’s not just about being a business. It’s about being part of the community,” Armitage said in an interview on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
Armitage, now of Worcester, was born and raised in Hubbardston. She comes from a family full of healthcare workers. Armitage’s mother, Patty, has worked at UMass Medical Center as a registered nurse for the past 31 years. Her brother, Marty, works as a Network Development Executive for NaviHealth in Newton.
Her father, Martin, is retired after working 32 years for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts between the Department of Corrections and the Department of Veterans’ Services.
Armitage previously worked for Spectrum Health Systems for two years in their business and development office and as a project manager in Spectrum’s IT department after being hired right out of college.
In April, Armitage heard that Washburn House was set to open this summer. She applied and interviewed with CEO Neil Gaer and Washburn House owner Timothy Rassias.
“Right away it seemed like a perfect fit for me. They built the whole program from the ground up and I was able to get in early and really have a say in what was going on,” Armitage said.
“I liked Liz right away because she brought a youthful perspective to the business — which is a very different perspective in this business,” said Gaer in an interview on Friday, Sept. 1.
“Liz is very energetic and her heart is in the right place in this job. She understands what we do from the recovery perspective — beyond the perspective of the business,” Gaer added.
When asked if he or Rassias hesitated putting a 24-year-old in such an important position, Gaer scoffed at the notion.
“You would never know [Liz is only 24-years-old]. She’s very mature for her age.
She’s had some great input in everything we do,” Gaer said.
The Washburn House opened in July — two months after Armitage was hired — and, according to Armitage, the first few months were spent with a small staff brainstorming what kind of program they thought would work best for recovering addicts in Worcester.
Armitage said, “When I first started there, there were only four of us employed and we sat around a table asking what we knew about the industry. It was great to be able to have my ideas heard and contribute in that way.”
To date, there are more than 50 employees working at the Washburn House and, according to Armitage, 15 more people will be hired before the end of the year.
According to Gaer, since the early stages of the program, Armitage has been influential in implementing new ways to reach Washburn House clients and, in particular, has developed a web portal that allows clients to access important information and to keep in contact with clinicians and program managers at Washburn House.
“Liz is very influential in the technology aspect of the program. We’re really working towards integrating technology into the things we’re doing here — including building patient portfolios and creating a system to track patient outcomes. Liz has really been great with those things and our website development, and [search engine] optimization,” Gaer said.
The web portal program — which will launch by the end of the year and is currently still unnamed — will give each client a Chromebook laptop with limited internet access and will download an app on their smartphone following their discharge from the program.
“It’s essentially going to be like college,” Armitage said. “They’ll have their laptop and their case manager and clinician will send them their homework for the night through this portal. They’ll have study hall where they can get their homework done and the next day they will be able to present what they are working on.”
“We’re trying to think outside the box. It keeps people engaged with their recovery and with us. Everyday we will text out – ‘How’re you feeling today?’ and our clients will respond with a smile face or a frown face. If it’s a frown face, it will trigger our system at the Washburn House and we will contact the client to see what’s wrong and if we can help in any way,” Armitage said.
According to Armitage, a friend of hers overdosed and died just after college and a short time before Armitage started working at Spectrum – a tragedy that she believes really pushed her into the health and human services field.
“I remind myself that it could have been me if I hadn’t made some right decisions in my life. It could have been any of my other friends. I have family members that have been affected by it. This is a disease that doesn’t discriminate.” Armitage said.
When asked what more can be done to bring about awareness of the opioid epidemic in Worcester, Armitage said, “Everyone just needs to get involved. I try to get involved in any way I can. The City of Worcester does a great job. Everyone is coming around and realizing that this is something that really needs to be paid attention to.”
“What’s great about this profession is that we are really like a family. Even though I’m with Washburn House, and someone else may be doing similar work with another organization, it’s not a competition. It’s ‘let’s work together, let’s spread the word about what we are doing and let’s figure out how we can all help one another,” Armitage added.
The first graduate of the Washburn House completed the program last month. Six months from now, Armitage sees the program with many graduates and at capacity.
“I see it full, unfortunately. But I see all of our programming in place. We are doing some really progressive programs,” Armitage said.
She added, “It’s not so much about trying to fill our beds. It’s more about what are the needs of this specific person’s health. In that way, I feel good about what we do and what I do. I have no clinical or medical background where I can help people in that way, but if I can help someone get into treatment or help a family with a family member, that means a lot to me.”
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