In light of the recent report from the state Attorney General on the charitable response to the December 2012 tragedy, Brian Mauriello, Founder/Chair of the Newtown Memorial Fund, Inc. issued an update to the community on behalf of several charitable funds. That group includes the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, Inc. (NSHCF), Newtown Lions Club Foundation, Newtown Memorial Fund, Newtown Rotary Club and United Way of Western CT.
Mr Mauriello on behalf of the consortium also sought to offer “insight into the realities facing the Newtown Community in the months and years to come.”
According to the release, shortly after the tragedy the Newtown Rotary Sandy Hook School Fund partnered with the United Way and the Connecticut Office of Victim Services to assist with out of pocket mental health and other financial costs for those impacted. In October 2013 that focus transitioned to cover reimbursement of mental health expenses only.
At that point, the Newtown Memorial Fund joined the effort pooling its funds dedicated for mental health costs with the other two groups to maximize efficiencies. More recently the Lions Club and the NSHCF joined this collaborative effort with NSHCF recently assuming responsibility of the payout of funds to service providers on behalf of the over 400 individuals who are being assisted.
Prior to joining the partnership the Lions Club made direct payments to providers on their own.
“We are happy that the NSHCF is now in a position where we are able to assume the payout process from the United Way and streamline payouts from the participating funds,” stated Jennifer Barahona, Executive Director of NSHCF.
The United Way recently provided a grant to the NHSCF to help offset overhead costs associated with managing the process. “Receiving grant dollars is important so that the Foundation can continue to operate without the need to use any of the donated funds for that purpose,” said Ms Barahona.
The Foundation pays providers directly using pooled resources from all the partners in what is now called the Collaborative Recovery Fund. In May alone the fund paid over $90,000 in out-of-pocket mental health costs for individuals.
“If the current rate of spending holds, the Rotary funds will be depleted in a matter of months,” stated Alan Clavette, Newtown Rotary board member.
The group argues that the Attorney General’s data in many cases is more than nine months old, and does not accurately reflect the amount of money remaining in the community.
“The inflow of new contributions is slow at best but the output is enormous,” stated Mr Clavette.
“One of our biggest concerns is the illusion that Newtown has more money than we need when in fact the opposite is true,” said Lions Club President Peter McNulty. “The Lions originally estimated having enough funds to last 10 years and the $344,000 we raised was completely depleted by May.”
The Lions, along with some of the other groups, are continuing to raise funds to support the mental health needs being addressed by the Collaborative Recovery Fund.
Funders are currently examining ways to preserve dollars for the longest time possible.
Mr Mauriello said his organization’s mission and purpose is to provide for mental and medical health needs of those directly affected; to support the community’s resiliency efforts; provide assistance in the creation/maintenance of suitable tributes/memorials; and establish an endowment for post-secondary scholarships for those identified in its criteria as eligible.
“Establishing a suitable spend rate based on need while keeping in mind the time horizon of that need has challenged us to look very carefully at the most successful venues for raising additional funds in a sustainable way,” he said.
With all the funds focusing on mental health recovery, the group is anxious to help the community better understand the challenges faced in sustaining the support. One thing that many people don’t understand is the out-of-pocket costs for mental health.
Recent changes in health care have had a huge impact on the out-of-pocket costs for families.
“We are no longer talking about a $20 co-pay for a session of therapy,” said Dr. Charles Herrick, psychiatrist and Chair of the NSHCF. “Families have very high deductibles and many providers are not accepting health insurance because of low reimbursement rates and the red tape required to get those reimbursements.”
Representatives of agencies involved with the funds do not want families to have to make the choice between paying household bills or seeking necessary mental health treatment.
“The group is looking at reasonable and customary fees for mental health treatment and may need to move to putting caps on payments if we want these resources to be available for impacted children and adults in the years to come,” said Dr. Herrick.