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Brain-injury survivors find solace after insurance runs out

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Situated on the College of Marin campus is a standalone building surrounded by gardens. Inside that building is a nonprofit devoted to helping brain-injury survivors regain their quality of life.

The Schurig Center for Brain Injury Recovery picks up where the health care system leaves off by helping people continue to recover from an acquired brain injury, such as a concussion, stroke or car accident.

The center offers everything from art therapy and computer-learning classes, to educational programs, support groups, and speech and occupational therapy. Rehabilitative and supportive services are available to survivors and their families and caregivers, according to Patricia Gill, executive director.

“Our goal is to fill-in the gaps on the continuum of care so if there is a service offered somewhere that we can refer to clients, then we do that,” Gill said. “We don’t duplicate services.”

The Schurig Center was founded in 1983 as the Marin Brain Injury Network, and in 1985 became a nonprofit organization, said Kim Strub, president of its board of directors.

Founder Karen Schurig started the organization after her then-14-year-old daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. In 2009, Karen Schurig unexpectedly passed away, Strub said.

“The name was changed to Schurig Center for Brain Injury Recovery in 2016 to honor the founder and to emphasize recovery,” Strub said. “Since 2010, the programs have expanded, the board has grown, the budget has grown, and we have continued the work that Karen began.”

Schurig Center is a 501(c)(3) organization with an annual budget of $725,000, according to Gill.

“We fundraise 80% of our budget,” she said, adding the center’s fiscal year runs from Aug. 1 to July 31. The fundraising goal this year is 5% less than previous years because Schurig vendorized last year with Golden Gate Regional Center, an organization that provides services and support to people with developmental disabilities in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties. ”They come and approve your services to be reimbursed by them. We have a few clients from there, so that has increased our fee-for-service revenue for those clients.”

Approximately 70% of the nonprofit’s clients are low income, Gill said, and because the center doesn’t refuse services to anyone, it holds an annual gala to raise what it calls scholarship funding for those unable to pay any or all of the fees.

People sometimes mistakenly think the center gets funding from health insurance or federal sources, Gill said, explaining that Schurig’s clients come to the center for continued rehabilitation and support after their health insurance coverage for treatment has ended.

The sole government funding the center receives is $25,000 from the county; it used to get one federal grant for $10,000, she said.

“We have 15 different services on that ($725,000) budget, which is impressive,” she said. “And we really want to put our revenue toward our staff that designs and implements all of our services.”

Schurig has about eight in-house staffers, and contracts with a number of consultants, including psychiatrists and teachers, who run classes, programs and facilitate support groups.

One of those consultants is Jim Wilson, a psychologist with a private practice in San Rafael, who developed and leads the center’s post-concussion education and support group. While such groups are common, the education component is new and that piece of the puzzle has proven helpful to Schurig’s clients, he said.

“Mild traumatic brain injury is often misconstrued. Because the person looks fine and has no symptoms on the outside, they’re assumed to be OK, so it’s been labeled as the unseen injury,” Wilson said. “They need as much support as those with moderate and severe concussions do. … Mild trauma can be life-changing and people need to understand that. That’s why this education group is so important for them.”

Marin resident Tina Taylor, 55, suffered a head injury two years ago when she slipped in the shower. It took many months before she realized how much the injury had impacted her life. As a result, she didn’t seek medical care until her then-16-year-old daughter convinced her mom that she wasn’t functioning well.

After seeking care, Taylor learned about the Schurig Center. She’s been attending Wilson’s classes and support groups, and said her state of mind has improved. The main benefit has been the education component and being around other people who have been through a concussion, she said.

“It doesn’t get belittled (at Schurig).” Taylor said, adding that friends with good intentions would suggest that her forgetfulness was due to age. “I know the difference between being in my 50s and the huge roadblocks I have in my brain that is definitely the injury. It’s a different process of forgetting. It’s only in that support group with people who have had this experience that I feel people really understand that.”

Dr. Tarun Arora, medical director and chief of neurosurgery at Marin Health Medical Center, and assistant clinical professor at UCSF Department of Neurological Surgery, sits on the advisory board of Schurig Center.

“Brain injury recovery traditionally has been thought to take a year to occur and plateau, but all of us who work with those patients know that recovery and rehabilitation continues to occur for years. … Most insurances cover a month or so in a rehabilitation center and do not cover many necessary and beneficial outpatient services beyond this” Arora said. “The functional training and adaptations that patients obtain through Schurig, along with the sense of community, social, and psychological support, has the potential to lower health care expenditure, improve patient and family wellness, and decrease the overall societal burden of various types of brain injury. I hope the Schurig model can serve as a blueprint for other such places around the country.”

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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