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The Mental Health Association in New Jersey is honoring NewBridge Services’ Victoria Ferlauto as a Behavioral Healthcare Hero for her innovative leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ferlauto, director of NewBridge Services adult day treatment program, ensured the safe, steady treatment of adults with severe mental illness. She will be featured in MHANJ’s 20th Annual Evening of Excellence, a 30-minute program to air on News12+ Optimum 61, Verizon FiOS 530 and MHANJ Facebook Live at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12. The show, honoring six mental health professionals, will be rebroadcast Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
“We are tremendously proud of Viki, whose efforts exemplify the entire staff’s commitment to our clients,” NewBridge CEO Michelle Borden said. Borden noted that Ferlauto “demonstrated deep care and concern for her staff as well as clients.”
Ferlauto was unaware she had been nominated for the award until MHANJ contacted her late last month. “I was touched and honored, and it came as a surprise!” she said.
“It must be said that the staff are all heroes as well, reminding society that mental health matters, now more than ever!” Ferlauto noted. She joined NewBridge in 1998 and a year later was promoted to oversee both the adult day treatment programs in both Morris and Passaic counties.
When Gov. Murphy ordered the statewide shutdown in March, Ferlauto worked feverishly over a weekend on a plan to keep essential treatment going. Video conferencing wasn’t an option, so Ferlauto went old-school: on Monday morning, staff phoned clients and used conference calling to connect them with group sessions.
“The clients were so happy we were calling them for group,” supervising clinician Cheryl Schmidt said. Clients participated in daily skills-training groups on coping, emotional management, addiction recovery and other topics.
Ferlauto planned how to safely have clients return to NewBridge for individual counseling sessions as soon as restrictions were lifted. As a volunteer on NewBridge’s COVID-19 safety committee, Ferlauto also ensured that staff receive and use personal protective equipment, and that strict cleaning protocols are adhered to.
“She runs a tight ship, and is very supportive of her staff and compassionate about her clients,” said Derk Replogle, director of Addiction Services.
Ferlauto grew up in a tight-knit Hungarian neighborhood in Passaic, and as a young adult belonged to a semi-professional Hungarian folk dancing troupe that once performed at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall.
She planned on becoming an archeologist or anthropologist until she realized how much math was involved. “I decided instead to dig up people’s history, one by one,’’ Ferlauto said in a 2013 interview. As a student at Fordham University, “I fell in love with clinical psychology.’’
Ferlauto lives in Jefferson Township with her husband and, despite the pandemic, maintains close ties to relatives scattered throughout the U.S., she said. NewBridge, she added, “is like a second family to me.”
NewBridge Services, a 501c(3) nonprofit, is a leading provider of counseling services, housing and educational programs in northern New Jersey serving nearly 8,000 adults and seniors last year alone. NewBridge treats mental illnesses and addictions; teaches skills for coping with stress, grief and challenging relationships; helps children who have been abused and neglected — and their families — heal; builds and manages affordable housing; offers scho