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A Conversation With Alica Forneret About Grief Resources for People of Color

I spoke with Alica Forneret over zoom about PAUSE, the organization she founded to support People of Color who are planning for end-of-life, experiencing grief, or working in the death industry. Forneret is an educator, speaker, and consultant dedicated to creating new spaces for people to explore grief and grieving.

First, can you talk about PAUSE: the work you do, your role, and how it came to be?

Yeah, it would probably be helpful to give a little context about myself. I got into the death field in 2015. I’d been working in the field for about a year when my mom Deborah went into the ICU unexpectedly and died.

I had been looking at my work in this really abstract way, and after my mom died, I recognized that I should probably look at my own relationship to grief and mortality. So in 2016, I pivoted the work I was doing and started public speaking, writing, doing events, and really just speaking openly about death and grief in a way I thought was missing.

Early on, a lot of my work was focused on grief as it relates to losing your mom. Then my work took two streams. One of those streams was HR: looking at how to support people as they reintegrate into the workplace after they’ve lost someone, and talking about bereavement policies and responses. The other stream was supporting Folks of Color, enhancing their end-of-life experience by connecting them to resources that were made by People of Color for People of Color.

In October 2021, I founded PAUSE. PAUSE came out of my work with end-of-life and supporting Folks of Color. The focus has been on how we can fill gaps in care for People of Color who are navigating death planning, dying, or grief due to death-related loss.

We support the public, institutional and system leaders, and providers. That can be entrepreneurs who are Folks of Color doing work in this space, like death doulas or grief coaches; then we also support folks who work within institutions that touch death in some way, like healthcare providers and mental health support, etc.

Yeah, one of my questions was about the support you give people working in the end-of-life industry. Can you explain a little more what that looks like?

It felt like one of the most powerful things we could do in our first year—which was last year—was give Folks of Color who were creating businesses in the end-of-life space resources and support that could make their businesses a little more sustainable. It can be challenging not only to start a business, but to start a business as a Person of Color, and as a Woman of Color, and—as the majority of our cohort was—as a queer Person of Color. Overarching all of this, starting a business that deals with death, which is something that people are so uncomfortable with.

When we were interviewing folks for our first residency, one of the top things we heard was: ‘I’ve done business courses; I’ve gone to programs before. People are not only confused about the work I’m doing, but uncomfortable having conversations about what I do at all.’

It was a really incredible opportunity for us to say, ‘Why don’t we create a space that is by us, for us, where we all come to the table ready and excited to talk about death care, and the intersections we hold in our work and identities that make our businesses what they are?’ This is what allows us to serve different demographics than the general industry serves right now.

Our inaugural cohort was 12 folks across the United States, and they came from a wide variety of backgrounds. We had nurses, grief coaches, death doulas. We had people doing spiritual work. We had people doing somatic and physical work.

For us, it was important that they were just starting their business within a certain number of years, and that they had a vision for where they wanted to take the work. They weren’t just: ‘I have an idea; I want to test it out.’ They’d been working in the field for a little while and knew that some kind of support would allow them to take the next steps that were impactful for their business.

It’s really cool that it’s called PAUSE, because often the attitude is so: ‘Move on, move on.’ It’s like there’s a timeline, and bereavement policies—if they exist—can be pretty bad. I like the idea of having an intentional space to pause. So what does taking a step back and pausing look like in your programming and the residency you offer?

Yeah, so very aligned with what you’re talking about, the name came from a newsletter that I started in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. There were a lot of grief and end-of-life resources popping up for folks. I was hearing from a lot of white folks in the industry: ‘Well, death is universal; we all experience death and grief, so my resources are relevant to anyone who is experiencing those things.’ I and people from my community recognize very quickly that that is not the case when we’re navigating these tragedies in our communities.

The newsletter I started was resources for grief and mental health, by and for Folks of Color. I said, ‘This is an invitation in your inbox on a regular basis to take a moment that other people are not going to give you to tend to your grief and mental health.’ You need to take it for yourself, and sometimes you need the permission to take it for yourself. Especially as Black women, we are not encouraged to take that time and space for ourselves.

So that’s been a thread in a lot of the work we do. For example, when we built the residency, it was very important to us that it didn’t feel like a traditional incubator or accelerator program, where you come in and burn yourself out trying to learn as much as you can. We wanted that concept of rest, sitting with your work, sitting with what it is that you might not have an output after every single meeting.

We invited folks in to teach classes on Fridays, where they would do a yoga or meditation class or do art therapy. Folks were invited into a time and place and space that was protected for them to make a moment away from the work. As an entrepreneur—someone who has started a business before and then founded a non-profit—I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t take moments for myself to not do the work.

For people who see grief as universal, can you talk about the importance of having a community of people who specifically understand grief related to systemic racism?

Yeah, so when we move into a space where we’re getting support—whether that’s therapeutic support, peer-to-peer support, community support—it can be so incredibly important to have someone that meets you a couple steps into that conversation. In that case, you don’t have to explain why racism has been a part of your experience navigating the healthcare system, navigating funeral homes, navigating paying off the debts of the person that has died.

It means that our time returns to us in not having to explain those things. We remove ourselves from immediately experiencing trauma when we’re trying to heal. We interact with someone who can speak to that cultural understanding of where we sit in society—and on an even more specific level, how we can navigate death and grief while we’re carrying that part of our identity.

For me, it’s been really beautiful—whether I’m in a conversation with someone about mother loss or a collective grief after a murder or tragedy within Communities of Color—when I don’t have to explain, ‘Okay, well these are the things that make it hard as a person that lives in my identity and experience.’

Always, and especially if you’re grieving and going through such an intense experience; you’re wanting support.

You’re already doing enough. We’re already doing so much work in grief. Particularly for Folks of Color, navigating day-to-day life and trying to feel held by anyone can mean an incredible amount of emotional labor and effort to find those spaces. To be able to let that down and release it—and know that you don’t have to take those extra steps—can be really powerful when you’re working with a service provider.

What are some ways people can support PAUSE?

People are welcome to visit our site and learn more, as well as donate. We’re also looking for support from folks that want to get involved with the events and programming we’re doing in Los Angeles this year and next.

I always tell people, ‘My inbox is open; my door is open.’ Anyone who feels a spark of intrigue, interest, connection, or resonance with what I’m talking about, I beg you to land in my inbox. There is incredible power in just connecting with someone who can say, ‘If you’ve been looking for a resource, I’m here to help you find it.’ And if you want to go the extra step of getting involved, we can always find a way for someone to support.

But I just tell people to reach out, because I’m very excited about the work we’re doing, and very grateful for anyone it resonates with just getting in touch.

And if someone doesn’t live in LA or on the West Coast, can they still get involved?

 Of course, 100%. Anyone and everyone, I don’t care where you live—reach out.


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As we continue to grow Amatus Health, the need to stay competitive and differentiate ourselves in unique ways is crucial. Building creative approaches to reach more people will take our company to new heights. This is why I am pleased to announce that we are officially rebranding. Our new national name, TruHealing Addiction & Mental Health Treatment, will eventually replace Amatus Recovery Centers.

You may be asking, “Why are we doing this?” This new name will give us national uniformity and help brand ourselves as a whole, which will be done in phases. You will still see our existing facility names co-branded with TruHealing for the time being.

Healing is what we do. Everyone who comes through our doors is in a moment of profound struggle in their lives. We support them through a life-changing process of healing and recovery, and they leave our facilities changed. This new name is a representation of that process. As mentioned above, it also allows us to have a national brand, which will make us a recognizable name in the addiction and mental health field.

In summation, these changes present an excellent opportunity for our organization to develop our mission, vision, and purpose. I look forward to prosperous growth as we head in a new and positive direction.


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Mark Gold
Amatus Health

Dr. Adam Cusner, PhD is an organizational psychologist by training and has brought his decade-plus experience to the healthcare field serving as the Executive Vice President of Operations for a 22-facility portfolio of skilled nursing facilities, assisted living and independent living centers across Ohio and Arizona, with an annual revenue over $250MM. While serving in this position, Dr. Cusner brought accelerated growth to these facilities, while increasing employee retention and workflow optimization. Dr. Cusner has a proven track record in the healthcare industry of providing successful leadership through his financial acumen, strategic planning, interpersonal skills, along with his ability to build strong, effective teams.


Dr. Cusner’s credentials include a Philosophy Doctorate in Organizational Psychology (PhD) from Cleveland State University, a Master of Arts in Psychology (MA) from Boston College with an emphasis on Psychology of Work, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology (BS) from Boston University with an emphasis in Organizational Behavior in Business and is a board-certified Nursing Home Administrator (LNHA). He has published and presented research articles in the field of organizational psychology at national healthcare conferences. Dr. Cusner is completing a book on organizational psychology in the healthcare field, which is expected to be published late early summer 2022. He is also a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), has served as the APA’s Division 17 communications chair, is a member of the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychologists (SIOP), and was selected as a professional reviewer for national conference research presentations.


Dr. Cusner is an advocate for his employees and is drawn to the tie between culture and quality. His extensive strategic and operational skills have delivered a high degree of success across all department levels. Dr. Cusner facilitated the establishment of an in-house financial team to provide billing and collections, accounts payable, vendor management, along with financial reporting. This provided $1.5MM annualized savings. Further, he developed department efficiencies for: Medical Staff recruitment, service-line growth, quality and safety, corporate accountability of budgetary expectations balanced with direct reporting to investor groups.


Dr. Cusner coordinated the financial turnaround of a 300 bed CCRC (skilled nursing, assisted living and an independent living center) in Arizona, which has been epitomized as the most financially challenging state to manage CCRC facilities. Dr. Cusner also strengthened the business growth of the Ohio facilities by 12%. He was recognized by the Governor for demonstrating a “care-conscious approach” during COVID, when Dr. Cusner carefully consolidated facility residents to accommodate staff and improve clinical care. Dr. Cusner demonstrates a results-driven culture by delivering a high-quality level of care and employee engagement.

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Yaffa Atias is the Director of Special Projects at Amatus Health. Atias is a leadership professional with a decade of experience in healthcare. She holds a BA in interdisciplinary studies from Thomas Edison State College, and a Master’s in Healthcare Management with a concentration in project management from Stevenson University. She completed her graduate capstone at Mosaic Community Services, now an affiliate of Sheppard Pratt.


In her role at Amatus, Atias leads and manages interdisciplinary team projects, creates solutions for any operational gaps, and continually strives for quality improvement in all processes. Atias led the organization’s COVID-19 preparedness strategy, resulting in all facilities remaining operational, and in 600 employees being retained as staff without resigning out of fear. In her role so far, she implemented licensure for three new states.


Atias believes Amatus Health and TruHealing stand out because every employee, from corporate to center staff, has a real passion for helping people. Atias shares this passion, “My natural compass always tugged me to behavioral health. I’ve always been fascinated by the human psyche. I have also been intimately privy to those suffering from mental illness and substance use. I later understood that my experiences weren’t unique, and quickly realized how pressing the need really is to effectively prevent and address. Moreover, how life-changing proper intervention truly is.”


Atias was born in Los Angeles, California and grew up in Israel and Maryland.

Melissa McCarthy is the Vice President of Business Development at Amatus Health. With a decade of experience in the behavioral healthcare and addiction treatment industry, McCarthy is passionate about recovery. She has her finger on the pulse of marketing trends, with the end goal of helping businesses grow so they can serve more people in need.


McCarthy has worked at large enterprise recovery centers across the country spearheading business development teams. She has a wide range of experience, including transforming a third-party digital marketing and client acquisition services company into a full-continuum behavioral healthcare provider, managing several successful rebrands, and growing annual revenue fivefold.


As VP of Business Development, McCarthy leads a team of over 20 business development professionals nationwide. She manages client acquisition, coordinates in-service trainings with various referents and hospitals, and presents at conferences on addiction and mental health disorder treatment.


“Sadly, many individuals die waiting for access to life-saving behavioral healthcare services,” says McCarthy. “I am in relentless pursuit of better—better access, better care delivery and better outcomes. I consider it a privilege to work in an environment where miracles unfold daily.”


McCarthy lives in Maryland with her daughter.

Hometown: Saugus, MA


Passions & interests: The greatest passion of mine is being able to dig into the work with men in early recovery. There is nothing better than witnessing and being a part of the change. My journey in long-term recovery has taught me to value the little things in life that I am now able to do. I love to do anything that allows me to be present with my wife, family, and friends. My wife and I enjoy traveling, trying new foods, and taking long motorcycle rides with our friends. If I am not on the road working or with my wife, I am studying or playing softball.


The best part of my job is being able to show up for my team and clients; they all mean the world to me. I get to brainstorm and strategize with tons of different personalities. A lot of the team does not know, but I love learning from them. If I am not learning something about our industry or workplace, I am certainly learning how to effectively collaborate with different types of individuals.


Together, we can change the narrative and be a part of the solution to better treat those trapped in the problem.

Allison was born in Columbus, Ohio and was raised in South Florida. She graduated from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. After college, Allison started working at the largest talent agency in the world, William Morris Endeavor. There, she learned marketing from top leaders specializing in global PR and endorsement campaigns, in both the Latin and English markets.


Through strategic public relations and creative campaign concepts, Allison has secured more than 200 national broadcast and print media placements for behavioral healthcare organizations. She brings over 15 years of marketing and PR experience, with a strong background in leading communications strategy for addiction treatment and behavioral healthcare facilities. In her role as VP of Communications, she oversees branding, public relations, social media, marketing, events, and content creation.


In her spare time, she loves cooking, boating, yoga, and traveling. She and her husband Bryan reside in Boca Raton, Florida.

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Avi Burstein is VP of Clinical Services at Amatus Health. He manages all therapeutic programming at all facilities nationwide.


Avi is originally from New York, and graduated from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He brings over 13 years of experience in the Behavioral Healthcare Industry, in both the public and private sectors. He is passionate about therapeutic communities and the fellowship they foster between patients. Through his work in LGBTQIA, urban, rural, and religiously observant populations, Avi recognizes that each patient is unique. Therefore, he strives to ensure clinical approaches, staffing, administration, and education meet the expectation of each community Amatus Health serves.


“Our work must also include ending the societal stigma surrounding such conditions by building safe and supportive networks that include clients’ families whenever possible,” Avi said. “By valuing change and owning imperfections, we can strive to be better providers and walk through the door of recovery with our clients.”

Avi Burstein is VP of Clinical Services at Amatus Health. He manages all therapeutic programming at all facilities nationwide.


Avi is originally from New York, and graduated from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He brings over 13 years of experience in the Behavioral Healthcare Industry, in both the public and private sectors. He is passionate about therapeutic communities and the fellowship they foster between patients. Through his work in LGBTQIA, urban, rural, and religiously observant populations, Avi recognizes that each patient is unique. Therefore, he strives to ensure clinical approaches, staffing, administration, and education meet the expectation of each community Amatus Health serves.


“Our work must also include ending the societal stigma surrounding such conditions by building safe and supportive networks that include clients’ families whenever possible,” Avi said. “By valuing change and owning imperfections, we can strive to be better providers and walk through the door of recovery with our clients.”

Marty Markovits is the Chief Information Officer at TruHealing. He oversees the people, processes, and technologies of the whole organization to ensure the business is running smoothly.


Markovits grew up in Brooklyn, NY (which he calls “the greatest city on Earth”) and graduated with a degree in Clinical Psychology from Queens College.


Markovits is a veteran in Information Technology within the healthcare field. He ensures that IT processes are simple, cost-effective, and secure. His expertise spans the entire healthcare domain, from billing and claims, to clinical, to Human Resources. He says, “My passion is to provide fully automated and operationally meaningful Business Intelligence analytics, with absolute data integrity.”

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Hometown: Savannah, GA


Passions & Interests: I spend my time outside of work with my wife and children and am actively involved in various community needs and causes.


The best part of my job is knowing that we are creating a safe, healthy, nonjudgmental environment where people can come and better their lives. There is nothing more satisfying than helping others learn to live again and piece their lives back together as they become strong, productive members of society.

Together, we can bring families back together and promote healing and well-being.


With over 16 years of proven executive leadership and driving company growth, Mark Gold’s momentum for success isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He serves as the CEO of Amatus Health, one of the fastest-growing, behavioral healthcare organizations in the country.

Possessing an excellent handling of clinical compliance and high performance standards, Mark established 14 CARF/JCT accredited addiction and mental health treatment centers and three ancillary healthcare businesses. Mark’s natural leadership skills as well as his creative thought process to generate new revenue strategies make him one of the most sought-after professionals in healthcare. Mark has a track record of leading organizations to outstanding ROI on overall portfolio performance. In addition, his expertise includes workforce planning, growth revenue, high client and investor satisfaction.

Aside from daily business oversight, Mark invests in his staff and helps build their professional development. His commitment to his colleagues and employees toward advancement and inclusiveness helps them achieve goals, builds connections, and provides a competitive advantage in the healthcare field.

Corporate and Charitable Leadership

Mark has been instrumental in building healthy communities and providing access and quality healthcare to underserved populations. His service in the community is a testament to his passion and selfless dedication to the cause of eradicating addictive disorders and stigma.

He launched several prevention and education programs and created the first-ever “Social Justice” scholarship fund of over $750,000.00 to help communities of color into inpatient drug treatment. Mark says, “The best part of my role is the knowledge that what we do impacts countless lives, with far-reaching effects,” he said. “It is incredibly rewarding to be part of a team that guides individuals onto a safe and accessible path to healing and recovery.”

He is a board member of Ahavas Chaim, a non-profit that offers at-risk teenagers crisis intervention and mental health support. He is also a committee member of the organizations Bonei Olam and Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic.

Personal and Educational Background

Mark studied Talmudic Law at Yeshiva’s Mir Yerushalayim in Israel. In Mark’s free time, he loves snowboarding, boating, and spending time with his wife and children.