Six-year-old Kami had asthma, anxiety, chronic kindergarten absence, a mom with diabetes. She and four siblings were facing homelessness. From this “family in chaos” emerged a new way of providing physical and mental health care to people in need.
The story of Kami—a fake name for a real girl—was exhibit A at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in City Hall to announce a new $9.7 million grant for “WrapAround New Haven,” a new way to deliver comprehensive health services.
The grant, from the federal government, has been awarded to New Haven’s Clifford Beers Clinic, which provides mental health services to children and families. The three-year grant is one of 12 given nationwide to projects offering new, money-saving ways to treat Medicaid patients.
The Beers Clinic will work with a variety of local organizations, including New Haven public schools, the city health department, the Connecticut Department of Social Services, and Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Karen DuBois-Walton, president of the clinic’s board of directors (as well as executive director of the city’s housing authority), used Kami’s story to introduce the program. Kami had been abused and neglected and suffered from terrible asthma, which had sent her to the ER six times in one year. She was dealing with severe anxiety. She missed so much kindergarten that she was going to be held back a year. She was living in a condemned building, where she and her mom and four siblings were facing eviction.
The new WrapAround initiative provides a way to address the constellation of problems Kami and her family face. “The traditional outpatient mental health model doesn’t work,” said Alice Forrester, Clifford Beers’ executive director. Families in crisis face a variety of obstacles to getting the care they need. They might be dealing with a lack of transportation, child care, or food.
Under the new program, Clifford Beers will be able to send a provider to Kami’s home to assess the family’s “hierarchy of needs.” It might turn out that the most serious problem facing the family is housing. Kami’s anxiety and asthma aren’t going to improve while the family is facing eviction. The new WrapAround program can help the family find transitional housing, or furniture, or deal with the landlord.
And, the idea is, it will end up being cheaper than providing acute care in emergency rooms and inpatient facilities. “We’re going to have to really financially model that we’re saving money,” Forrester said.
The grant will pay for 34 new staff people, and it includes money for “flex funds” and “incentives.” That means the program can pay for things like a new air conditioner, which can keep families with asthma out of the emergency room. And it means that Clifford Beers can offer incentives like $5 gift cards for attending things like stress-relief classes.
At Tuesday’s press conference, the new grant was hailed by Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital Executive Director Cynthia Sparer, New Haven schools Superintendent Garth Harries, state Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby, and Mayor Toni Harp (pictured).