Happy Birthday Takes on New Meaning at MiraVista

Hearing “Happy Birthday” sung is all part of recovery at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center’s outpatient clinic for medication assisted treatment for substance use.

It is what Juan Feliciano has happily come to do as an unofficial aspect of his security job, along with a signature smile upon entry and, as often happens, a chat with clients before exit. He has made it a point to get to know clients well enough to know their birthdays and will surprise them with the birthday song if he sees them on their special day.

“I have learned over the years to greet people with respect, a smile, say good morning and ask them how they are doing,” said Juan of the several hundred people he greets daily. “That softens everything up right away in contrast to having that mean face on with a uniform.”

He added, “I will introduce myself if they are new. Walk them through the process of receiving their medication and where they need to go, for instance if their clinician would like to speak to them to schedule an appointment, and then where they stand to go into a private area to get their daily dosing of methadone.”

Juan started in security nearly a decade ago with Providence Behavioral Health Hospital when the 35-year-old Springfield native and Springfield Central High graduate admits he had much to learn about addiction as a disease.

“When I learned I would be working on a unit with folks who had a drug addiction, I thought in stereotypes because I understood so little about where they were coming from,” Juan said. “As time went on, I started talking with our clients and building relationships. I have seen folks arrive in really, really bad shape but leave through recovery in great shape.”

He said he got to know, from the time they were born, at least two of the children of clients in long-term recovery who utilized the clinic to receive their daily medication for five or six years.

“I came to love the relationship I can build with folks,” Juan said. “What I can impart to them, and what they could impart to me in understanding addiction. It helped me spread the word to my family members and others that addiction is misunderstood and not what they think it is. There are no quick remedies. It is not as simple as getting willpower as some people like to say.”

He said that “it’s been gratifying to do that” to combat “the ignorance that creates negative stereotypes around addiction” as well as putting people at ease when they see him for the first time as a security presence in the clinic after their initial consultation.

He feels that there would be less stigma around addiction and getting help if more people were willing to be educated about it – including listening to the stories of those with the disease – and the treatments given for long-term recovery.

He and the five members of his team have been educated on the medications used to treat opioid use disorder and other addictions.

“Clients will explain their willingness to stop using a drug but how hard it can be and why it can be that hard,” Juan said. “They will go into detail because they see us every day as the front line and they love to talk. For some, we are the only people they engage with in a meaningful way all day.”

He said he tells the clients to “not give up, you are valuable” and sometimes asks “what’s their happiest moment and I tell them we will fight for that.”

“They tell me I am very encouraging and that encourages me to be that person,” Juan said. “It is two way. Many of our people are so used to being rejected and they shouldn’t be. Anyone can have a disease. If you are diagnosed with cancer, I am not going to treat you any differently except to be there and be supportive.”

When Providence closed in June 2021, its substance use recovery programs remained in operation during the 10-month period before the property was sold and reopened as MiraVista. Juan continued as security supervisor through the transition and was named MiraVista’s Security Manager by Mark Paglia, Chief Operating Officer.

“Juan sees folks who come in and out of our methadone clinic every day and really knows their families, their situations, and has gotten to know the people we serve as people,” said Kimberley Lee, MiraVista’s chief of Creative Strategy and Development.

“He is so very reflective of the care that people at MiraVista seek to give. He provides safety for everyone, but his approach to the individuals who come in daily is really part of their recovery because he is kind, welcoming and warm. Wouldn’t we all feel better about going to a place where you feel accepted and supported from the time you entered.”

She called Juan’s ability to remember clients’ birthdays “huge.”

“Consider the number of overdose deaths that were experienced here in Massachusetts last year, some 211 in Hampden County alone,” Lee said. “The fact that Juan is able to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to our clients and know that they have sustained recovery for another year and sustained sobriety and for that to be celebrated and recognized is huge. Juan’s special birthday greeting ‘Happy, happy birthday from the Mira Vista crew! Wish it was our birthday so we can celebrate too, hey! It’s just so great on so many levels!”

MiraVista’s recovery programs for substance use include Acute Treatment Services (detox), Clinical Stabilization Services (post-detox), and outpatient services that offer Medication Supported Recovery, counseling, day treatment programming and a variety of relevant groups.

Medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) is treatment that combines the use of FDA-approved drugs, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and extended-release naltrexone, with counseling and behavioral therapies for people diagnosed with opioid use disorder (OUD).

Since opening 17 months ago, MiraVista, which offers psychiatric and substance use recovery treatment to both adolescents and adults, has served 15,000 inpatient bed days, and had over 300,000 outpatient visits.