As referrals double, Healthy365 center seeks additional help

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Referrals through the Healthy365 program have skyrocketed during the pandemic. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — A second navigator will soon join the staff at the Healthy365 Connections Center to help manage the overwhelming number of requests for support.

When staff was preparing to open the new Greenfield center in mid-February, they had no idea just how busy they would get in the coming months thanks in part to COVID-19.

The center is meant to be a one-stop-shop for those seeking a wide range of assistance, from food security to counseling. The center’s staff helps clients navigate available resources, and will even help them see what service providers take their insurance and help set up initial appointments.

Just one support navigator was on staff to help assist clients when COVID-19 hit, and calls for assistance soon doubled.

The center in August will add a second support navigator to the staff to help manage the caseload.

“The new person’s role will be to provide support, ongoing collaboration, and referrals to needed resources, and to walk alongside clients as they get the support they need,” said Amanda Everidge, director of community health improvement for Healthy365, a division of Hancock Health.

When the connections center opened five months ago, the staff didn’t plan to add a second navigator until the start of 2021.

“Based on the influx of calls we’ve gotten from the community since the pandemic hit, it just became very clear that the needs were far greater than we expected, and more than one navigation support can handle within our office,” Everidge said.

Jessica Fisk-Abraham has been the only navigator on staff. Since mid-March, she’s been especially busy helping clients navigate the challenges that come along with a global crisis.

Job layoffs, food scarcity and the overall stress on mental health has increased the number of clients seeking services.

“A lot more people are struggling with mental health. Calls seeking help with substance use have increased. I’ve had a lot more referrals sent from the ER with an overdose or withdrawal. A lot of elderly can’t figure out how to use the virtual aspects of the phone, so they’re not able to access the one-on-one therapy sessions as they were before,” Fisk-Abraham said.

She’s also fielded a lot of calls from people struggling to navigate the new world of e-learning for students, or to put enough food on the table after suffering a job loss or cut in pay.

Spending unprecedented amounts of time stuck at home with family has also taken a toll, as the center has seen an increase in requests for marital and family counseling.

The navigation center’s calls jumped from 20 in March to nearly 40 in April, as the effects of the pandemic began to set in.

Fisk-Abraham doesn’t just provide clients with a list of providers for services they’re seeking. She offers to reach out to those resources herself on behalf of the client, and walks them through the process. She also follows up with each client for a certain period of time afterward.

“People have been very appreciative that it’s not just a referral, but they appreciate that ongoing engagement,” Everidge said.

“I’ve had great feedback from many clients who say having someone call just to check in to see how they’re doing has been phenomenal. We’re able to explain the services and the exact process they can expect when they get to that next step, which helps them feel comfortable and confident walking into a new service provider,” she said.

Fisk-Abraham said the personal approach helps her to determine someone’s needs, then walk alongside them as they’re getting those needs met.

“Not only do we help them find what they need — such as in-patient treatment or mental health services — we get to know them as a person, see what resource is going to be best for them; determine what their insurance takes; and help them along the way,” Fisk-Abraham said.

The personal touch helps a navigator be more attuned to what a client may actually need, she said.

“If someone has been struggling with mental health, there could be other problems going on in their life as well,” she said. “If they need counseling, there may be problems with relationships at home, or they may be stressed because of finances. I try to get the whole picture of everything going on with them.”

The personal approach helps support the most vulnerable in the community, those who aren’t in the best positions to help themselves, she said.

“Some people who come in with depression, for example, can’t think beyond what they need next. We ‘ll help them determine what help is best for them,” said Fisk-Abraham, who joined Healthy365 on July 20 last year.

She recalled one particular client — a single man in his late 50s — who was laid off after the pandemic hit. He had a drinking problem before, but the layoff turned that into full-fledged alcoholism after he was stuck at home alone all day dealing with unprecedented stress.

“When he was asked to go back to work he realized he couldn’t because he would need treatment to be able to go back to work without withdrawals,” said Fisk-Abraham, who was able to get the man registered for in-patient treatment within two hours of his initial call to the center seeking help.

“I talked to him on the phone the entire time and encouraged him. I was on the phone with him for two hours, and even made sure he had a place for his dog to go while he was gone. Now he’s got a sponsor, is going to meetings, and is in counseling. He’s back to work and is doing great,” she said.

He called her from in-patient treatment to thank her and share with her how well he was doing, which is all the thanks she needs.

“If I’m helping just one person, that’s what I’m doing this for,” she said.

To contact the Connections Center, call 317-468-4231 or visit behealthy365.org.

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Healthy365’s Connection Center helps people navigate the safety net, providing guidance on accessing a wide range of services, from medical care to food security to counseling. To contact the Connections Center, call 317-468-4231 or visit behealthy365.org.

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