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At One-Year Mark, CSW Looks To Do Even Better By Newtown Residents



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Since April 2016, the Newtown Center for Support and Wellness (CSW) has been working to be the single point of entry for mental health and wellness resources for those who live and work in Newtown.

Director Jennifer Crane said she and her staff are looking back on their first year and sharing the successes and accomplishments they have achieved, but recognized there is still a long way to go on behalf of any Newtown resident who is suffering with a mental health issue, anxiety, stress, or post traumatic stress, whether it is rooted in the events surrounding the Sandy Hook tragedy, or otherwise.

The center's major services include:

*Providing a comprehensive referral service for most mental health needs

*Following up with clients to ensure a successful match to a therapist or other resource

*Working with clients to find providers who take their insurance, availability, and there is an overall good fit.

*Dedicating staff to those most impacted by the 12/14 tragedy

*Partnering with community organizations to address gaps in services

*Hosting events for local providers to improve quality of local resources, and

*Creating sustainable programs to serve the community in the future

Ms Crane said that while CSW is primarily a referral service, at times her staff has been called upon to provide immediate crisis intervention for clients. On rare occasion, situations have escalated to the point where she has had to call for assistance to help clients in crisis connect with a stepped-up level of support that is better off delivered in an institutional or hospital setting.

"It is rare, but if someone does present with a major psychiatric situation, or appears to be a danger to themselves or others, we'll call for help and be sure they get to the hospital," she said. "And if they are reaching out to us in that case over the phone, we'll work with them and first responders to get them the right assistance."

For every client they help connect with services or support, Ms Crane said the CSW staff remains involved, performing follow-up with both the placement professional and the client to be sure there are minimal to no bumps in their road to recovery.

"We want to first be sure the provider calls them back, and they get the appointment they need," she said. "In most cases the provider takes it from there. But within a few days of the appointment, we'll call the client to check in and see how they are doing, and then again a couple of weeks out to be sure they are still doing well and they don't need another referral."

The CSW staff has seen a number of situations where the entry point of service is with a teen or adolescent. But once the parent or caregiver begins to see positive outcomes, they occasionally call for additional support for themselves, a sibling, or the entire family.

While the regional network of mental health support still includes a number of professionals who take insurance, many more operate on a cash-only basis, either at a full fee for services rendered per visit, or on a sliding scale to help clients to afford payments. That is another area where the CSW team can be of help.

"I noticed in the past year that there are fewer providers taking the state's HUSKY insurance, and that is becoming a problem for some folks in Newtown," Ms Crane said. "So we just have to work a little harder, and we're usually good about finding someone, even if it's in a neighboring community. People just need to be willing to drive 15 or 20 minutes to get that service."

Ms Crane said today, about half of the CSW clients come presenting with concerns directly related to or rooted in the 12/14 tragedy, while the other half is seeking support for issues that long preceded the fateful events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"The other thing we're working much more closely on is responding to local families touched by tragedy since 12/14, like those suffering the loss of a loved one from things like accidents," she said. "In certain situations we get a call from the local police to come in and help. We stay connected with them to continue helping with things like food and meals."

One of the service gaps CSW is continuing to work to fill is finding ways to address the needs of specific groups, or even entire populations. In the coming months, the agency will be concentrating on developing more services that might tend to appeal to, and be more accessible to, men in the community, particularly those who may be leaders in their businesses, agencies, or departments.

Ms Crane said a lot of programming is set up to be gender inclusive, so in the case of things like yoga, it may not have a lot of appeal to a man who may be uncertain whether he is in need of some sort of professional assistance to help him realize and express grief that may be born out of trauma - and that they can embrace.

"We also find that while there are a lot of services available to Newtown's aging population, they either don't seem to be aware of therapeutic services available to them, or they don't know we are here to help," Ms Crane said. "We want them to know we are here to connect them to services if they need them."

In terms of community provider support, Ms Crane said CSW hosted a very successful summit with a human resources IT professional who helped guide service providers through the often complex procedure of filing with insurance companies or other agencies for service reimbursements.

"It gave providers better ways to get around challenges they may be facing with insurance companies," she said.

Looking to the future, Ms Crane said she is hoping to improve her agency's website to be even more of a resource for any town resident who may click on because they suspect that they or a loved one needs help.

"We have a basic website, but I believe there are more resources we can provide that will deliver immediate help for someone suffering a panic attack or some kind of PTSD reaction," she said. "We also want to provide an updated list of 12/14 resources," she said.

Another project on the roster is working through the checklist to get Newtown designated a "Town of Compassion."

According to the initiative's website, the goal of that effort is to bring compassion to life in practical, specific ways through compassion-driven actions - in neighborhoods, businesses, schools and colleges, health care, the arts, local government, peace groups, environmental advocacy groups, and faith congregations.

The cities and communities that sign on to become Compassionate Cities and Communities have often begun their work by identifying the issues that are troubling the community and need to be addressed through compassionate action. For example, a community may discover a significant issue related to social justice - for women, for immigrants, or for some other marginalized group.

Other communities may want to address issues of drug use, gang violence, the lack of equitable healthare, or the effects of environmental racism. Others may decide to work to provide empowerment to youth or to educate their communities about the need for compassion in addressing environmental issues.

Besides Ms Crane, who is responsible for long term planning of CSW, community outreach, assisting police, social services, and other partners with mental health needs of individuals in crisis, and addressing gaps in service in the community, her staff includes:

*Corinne Ofgang, care navigator, is assigned to support any community member seeking mental health resources. This position works closely with the Newtown Public Schools to support children and families who need further resources outside of the classroom. In addition, Ms Ofgang is the point person for clients seeking services who are impacted by 12/14 but were not present at Sandy Hook.

*Valerie Le Cann Jones, survivor care navigator, works with the survivors of the 12/14 tragedy, including Sandy Hook students, staff, EMS, and police. She helps individuals and families to find appropriate mental health resources, necessary funding, work with their insurance more effectively, and explore long-term wellness programs and resources.

*Tricia Pinto, victim family care navigator, is an advocate for the 26 families of loss from 12/14 and provides support as needed. "Every family has a different level of need and we cannot forget that each family is unique," said Ms Crane. "Tricia is the conduit of information for the families. Organizations who have events, programs, offerings, or important message for the families can use Tricia to communicate information with the families."

The Newtown Center for Support and Wellness is at 28 Trades Lane. Reach the center by phone at 203-270-4612, or e-mail Ms Crane at jennifer.crane@newtown-ct.gov

The unassuming former guard's residence that served Fairfield Hills when it was an operating state hospital is continuing to serve Newtown residents who may be suffering mental health issues, anguish, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress, whether it is rooted in the tragedy of 12/14 or other incidents. Staff members of Newtown's Center for Support and Wellness are recognizing the one-year anniversary of their agency and planning a number of initiatives in the coming year to affect even greater outreach and support for those residents in need. (Bee Photo, Voket)
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