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Updated: March 6, 2023 / 2023 Business Leaders of the Year

Business Leaders of the Year: Hylton provides dignity in mental health services

Photo | MATT WRIGHT Jennifer Hylton, executive director at Counseling & Assessment Clinic

At Jennifer Hylton’s Counseling & Assessment Clinic of Worcester, word choice matters.

Choosing the right verbiage to use when speaking about issues clients deal with helps break down the stigma around mental health, said Hylton, and might even make service-seekers more willing to get help.

“When you say, ‘Behavioral health’ and ‘Wellness,’ it takes the bite out of people feeling they’re told they’re crazy,” said Hylton. “People are more open to it.”

A bio box on Jennifer Hylton
A bio box on Jennifer Hylton

Ensuring access to care across the spectrum of behavioral health, mental health, and substance use has been a priority for Hylton since she opened the CAC in 2007. As she has expanded to have two clinics each in Fitchburg and Worcester, her vision of ensuring the marginalized people in the community can be cared for remains the focus.

“She has been a great champion of the needs of some of the most vulnerable in our community,” said Stephanie Page, executive director of Worcester nonprofit Abby’s House.

Hylton, owner and executive director at CAC, started with six employees in 2007 when she saw a need for a new clinic in the community. Specifically at the time, she sought to employ Spanish-speaking clinicians to ensure equitable treatment options for a larger portion of the community.

Hylton was trained as a clinical psychologist and is a licensed family and marriage therapist, and she credits her educational experiences as motivators for giving back to the next generation of clinicians while building a diverse workforce environment.

“I felt it was part of my responsibility to give back what I got in my training,” she said.

Before the healthcare pipeline became a buzzword due to staffing shortages in the industry exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, Hylton was already committed to a strong internship program and hiring post-doctoral students at her clinics. Even so, CAC is not immune to the staffing challenges plaguing health care: from its peak of just over 70 employees, the staff now hovers below 60.

Some things to come out of the pandemic have been positive for the center, though, said Hylton, citing the increased access to telehealth and other virtual treatment options. Patients are more consistent now, with fewer no-shows as well as the ability to take on patients who do not live in Worcester or Fitchburg.

Hylton aims to have her staff of clinicians and practitioners make clients feel understood. Nothing is more valuable, she said.

“We have people say to us, ‘Wow, you understand what I’m going through. This is the first time I’m feeling this way,”’ she said.

This sentiment has helped CAC expand to seeing more working professionals seek their services, said Hylton, who credits word of mouth from clients as inspiring friends and family to seek out someone to talk to.

Still, commitment to serving vulnerable populations is part of Hylton and CAC’s mission, and nowhere is it clearer than in the clinic's partnership with nonprofit Abby’s House.

Abby’s House is a Worcester-based organization providing housing services for women and their children in the form of shelter and affordable housing. The organization promotes advocacy, education, and community support for the women who use its services.

Hylton is an ally to this work, said Page, the Abby’s House executive director. CAC’s services are in high demand across the board, but this has not impacted the availability for women at Abby’s House to have access.

“Jennifer has been instrumental in ensuring Abby’s House has the resources needed for the women who come to us, and does it in a dignified way for each woman,” said Page.

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