New Outreach leader looks to improve access to services
by Benjamin Fang
Jul 11, 2018 | 14211 views | 0 0 comments | 370 370 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After nearly four decades with Kathleen Riddle at the helm, substance abuse treatment organization Outreach has a new leader.

On June 30, Riddle, the nonprofit’s founder, president and CEO, formally retired. After leading the organization for 39 years, she will take a part-time advisory role.

“It is with mixed emotion, joy, pride, sadness and relief that I step back from my lead role at Outreach,” Riddle said in a statement. “Serving as the leader of this incredible organization has been the greatest honor of my life.”

After an extensive search process, the board appointed Debra Pantin, a mental health and substance abuse treatment veteran, to take over as Outreach’s new president and CEO. Pantin was most recently the CEO of Bronx-based agency VIP Community Services.

Pantin, a Brooklyn resident, was born in Trinidad. Her family migrated to the country when she was 15 years old, and settled in Canarsie.

She attended SUNY Purchase College, where her interest in social work piqued. During her senior year, she took an internship at the Westchester-based organization Payne Whitney under its mental health unit.

Pantin came back to New York City after graduation to work in foster care and mental health services with the nonprofit Educational Alliance. She helped establish their first residential program for dually-diagnosed patients.

Interested in working with children and families, the Brooklynite then took a job with a foster care service agency, helping women who were addicted and the children who were removed from their care.

Many of the women Pantin helped were incarcerated at Rikers Island. She recalled escorting some of her clients’ children to the jail for visits.

“It tore up my heart,” she said.

Pantin realized she couldn’t do service “behind a wall,” and wanted to be active on the prevention side. That’s when she began working at the organization Palladia, formerly known as Project Return.

Her portfolio branched out to include the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic at the time. Pantin said some of her responsibilities included providing housing and homeless services for clients.

During her 25-year tenure at Palladia, Pantin’s interests shifted toward integrated care. She began to focus on the integration of primary care and behavioral health services within the organization.

At VIP, where she led for five years, Pantin revitalized the nonprofit’s health clinic into a federally-qualified health center (FQHC), which provides a range of primary care and prevention services for the community.

In her first year there, Pantin also formed VIP’s mental health clinic, adding to the organization’s substance abuse and primary health care programs.

When Riddle stepped down and there was an opening at Outreach, Pantin decided to apply. She said the opportunity brings her back “full circle” to working with children and families again.

“If we want to be serious as a community to address this epidemic, we have to spend some time working with our families and our children,” she said. “I always see working with children especially as a dual focus of treatment and prevention at the same time.”

Pantin said her decades of experience in the field will be instructive for her new position leading Outreach. Though the Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island-based organization is not a licensed primary care or mental health provider, it works collaboratively with providers.

“I think I bring to the table a collaborative operation that is a little more detailed and filled out because I know the other side as well,” she said. “I think ultimately, it helps the vision of the community and what we can do.”

As she begins her journey at Outreach, Pantin noted that the organization has already set many targets, projects and deadlines to meet, including building a 25-bed facility for women in Long Island and another in Queens.

But Pantin said she also wants to focus on making sure the community knows about the programs already in place and the projects that are on the way. Getting the word out is as important as providing the necessary services, she said.

“The key to any provider services, in my estimation, is really about access,” she said. “The more access we can give to folks who need the services, to me, is 70 percent of the work.”

She added that the model of providing care is also shifting toward managed care companies. Her target is that within 18 to 24 months, Outreach will be set up systematically, operationally and organizationally to work with managed care companies, which are not new to the nonprofit.

Pantin said a significant portion of the work they will do would be values-based purchasing, meaning it will “be capitated and sold as a group of services.”

With the opioid epidemic still affecting regions of the state, Pantin said Outreach has a role in not only providing services, but also with advocacy. She said they are one of the “go-to” agencies on the state level that helps with developing operationally-sound policy.

Outreach also boasts a training institute that retrains much of the workforce in the field. Pantin said it can a struggle to find people for this line of work, but they are optimistic about continuing to provide the training and certification services.

Pantin admitted that it would be difficult to fill Riddle’s shoes, considering that she was the founder of the organization and served for nearly 40 years.

“But I always say to folks, you get an insole and you make it fit,” she said. “That’s my attitude.”

To build on Riddle’s legacy, Pantin said she is already paying attention to everything Riddle has done, even the small details like how the site looks and how the staff treats patients.

“Our patients are often treated with a lot of disregard and disrespect,” she said. “For individuals to come into an environment where it’s eye-pleasing, and they’re treated in a very respectful manner by the staff, those are some of the details that Kathy paid attention to.”

Outreach’s new CEO said both she and Riddle are also big on quality, which will be another mainstay. She aims to prepare the organization for the next generation while maintaining the highest quality of care.

Looking ahead, Pantin said she eventually wants to bring more services outside of the walls of their facilities. Many patients prefer treatment closer to home, even if they eventually come back on-site.

“We can bring our services, or an introduction to our services, to various sections in the community,” she said. “We don’t have to stay in this building and expect people to come here.”
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