'Rotary Connects' -- a success in providing cellphones to assure continuing mental health care
When community mental health centers moved to “telehealth” because of COVID-19, some clients had no means to connect for their mental health care, despite the common perception that “everyone has a cell phone today.”
Rotarians for Mental Health took action. Our group obtained $20,000 as a Disaster Response Grant from The Rotary Foundation.
And we created Rotary Connects – providing critically needed cell phones to 600 vulnerable clients, keeping them connected to their therapists and prescribers at nine Colorado mental health centers. These centers provide hope and support to individuals struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse disorders in the Denver seven-county metro area. Also benefiting were mental health clients in Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, Morgan, Summit and southern Weld counties.
With Rotary Connects funds, these centers identified their clients needing cell phones and put smart phones in their hands. Some cell phone companies offered deeply discounted phones and services for this purpose.
Curt Harris is governor of District 5450 with its 61 clubs. He said, “I am very proud of Rotarians for Mental Health and the many clubs in our district that are responding to this pandemic with compassion, generosity and inventiveness. Rotary Connects certainly meets a critical need of some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.”
Rotary governor praises Rotary Connects leader
At the District's virtual annual conference in late summer, Harris awarded special recognition to Seth Patterson, a co-chair of Rotarians for Mental Health and the chairman of the Rotary Connects project. District Governor Harris expressed appreciation for Patterson's vision, coordination, perseverance and leadership in achieving success and making a real difference in the very difficult pandemic environment.
Hans Wiik, a co-chair of Rotarians for Mental Health and member of the Rotary Club of Boulder, recalls how the group first heard of the problem back in March. "The therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists at Mental Health Partners, serving Boulder and Broomfield counties, became acutely aware of this need when clients could not be reached after clinic sites closed due to COVID-19. They needed to connect to clients to confirm appointments, conduct therapy, approve medication refills or schedule lab work as required with certain medications.”
Further, “To support clients’ various therapy-related needs and also for connecting to other resources in the community -- crisis lines, transportation, shelters, food pantries -- phones became essential.”
The need was the same for other mental health centers, including AllHealth Network, Aurora Mental Health Center, Centennial Mental Health Center, Community Reach Center, Jefferson Center for Mental Health, Mental Health Center of Denver, Mental Health Partners, Mind Springs Health and North Range Behavioral Health. The centers, especially those with walk-in services for assessment and support, recognized the immediate isolation of clients without smart phones.
Sarah is a case manager at Mental Health Center of Denver. She shared this account: “One of my clients was extremely grateful for the phone. I am also extremely grateful, as I now have a way to contact this person. It’s made delivering medications and doing wellness checks much easier. Staying in contact is more important than ever right now, and we wouldn’t have been able to do this without the phone. Please give the donor a big thank-you from me.”
Though the centers now have moved back to in-person therapy and other assistance, in varying degrees, telehealth also continues, and probably will be used for years to come.
Rotarians for Mental Health has 19 member clubs in the Rotary district. It is best known for its annual mental health symposium, held in connection with the Denver Southeast Rotary Club’s State of the State Luncheon. This year’s symposium focused on suicide prevention. The organization also encourages clubs to adopt mental health projects.
Rotary’s motto is “Service Above Self.” Rotarians for Mental Health demonstrates that through Rotary Connects. Individual clubs in the district also have responded to the pandemic and community crisis, many supporting local food banks.
The Rotary Foundation provided $4 million of grants to districts, which could receive a maximum of $25,000 each and choose how to allocate it. District 5450 prioritized mental health needs. Rotarians for Mental Health received $20,000 and created Rotary Connects. Another $5,000 went to Colorado Crisis Partners, a statewide, 24/7 crisis intervention system that gives Coloradans greater access to crisis services, including telehealth, regardless of their ability to pay.
Awards to clubs doing great work in mental health
The Hayes Family Mental Health Award
The Rotary Club of Boulder won the 2020 Hayes Family Mental Health Award for their work with “Natural Highs -- Healthy Alternatives to Drugs and Alcohol,” a non-profit that supports teens for healthier lifestyles and leadership development. The $2,000 award enabled them to create a virtual platform for use when the schools closed and to offer a summer program to keep the teens connected.
The 2020 R4MH Award
The Rotary Club of Golden won the R4MH award for “Helping Kids Thrive/Community Wellness Fair,” which they co-sponsored with the Jefferson Center. It is a parent conference providing hands-on practical information for parents and caregivers to help children of all ages. It was filled to capacity and they plan to do it again this school year.
Previous Years' Awards:
Dave Gardener, Diana Fields and Bill Farrow presented the 2019 Rotarians for Mental Health Award to the Boulder Rotary Club for their work the past two years on mental health community education events at the Jewish Community Center. Accepting the award were Diana Sherry, chair of the club’s Behavioral Wellness committee, and Gary Kahn, who put videos of most of the 2018 events onto YouTube. The award included a $750 donation towards their next mental health project.
The Boulder Club co-hosted nine events with a total attendance over 1,500. Feedback from attendees was consistently positive. Boulder Community Health, Mental Health Partners and both the Boulder Club and the Boulder Valley Club were recognized at each event and had display tables.
For 2019 the Rotary Club of Denver Southeast received the first-ever R4MH award for their work on the annual State of the State/Mental Health Symposium events.
The Hayes Family Mental Health Award
The 2019 Hayes Family Mental Health Award went to the Rotary Club of Summit County for its partnership with a grass-roots mental health initiative called Building Hope Summit County. A new member class of eight led the way, producing brochures providing education on mental health, aiming to reduce the stigma. The award includes $2,000 for future work in the mental health field.
This district award was created by the family of the late Mike Hayes, avid Rotarian and PDG, in his honor. The award recognizes and supports an outstanding new project addressing depression, anxiety and/or addiction.
For 2018 the Rotary Club of Commerce City received the first-ever Hayes Family Mental Health Award. Commerce City's project was Just for Veterans and Their Families: Embracing Needs and Removing Barriers. Their goal for a new project was to deepen connections with the veterans community, teaching Mental Health First Aid and providing other educational activities.