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While many Newtown residents were celebrating Easter on Sunday, April 1, the small and dedicated staff of Newtown’s Center For Support and Wellness (CSW) were marking the agency’s second anniversary.
The CSW, a town department, was put into place at the end of March 2016, initially as a point of entry for mental health referrals for all residents of Newtown. But over the ensuing two years, the CSW has established a unique presence in the town according to director Jennifer Crane, interfacing with social services, the police department, and other town entities.
“The CSW has stepped in to assist with residents in times where there was not previously a resource,” Ms Crane told The Newtown Bee. “The CSW has created a place where residents can go free of charge when they are unsure of where to go when in distress. A member of the CSW staff will work, in a care navigation role, to ensure a positive resource match.”
Although the agency’s referral service still exists, she said the CSW has evolved from a referral center to a town department leading a collaborative effort to define and measure the behavioral health of the community.
“Since we see only a small percentage of the community, we want to work with a large catchment of the community to begin to measure how service providers are increasing the quality of life for those in Newtown who are suffering,” Ms Crane explained.
Ms Crane expressed gratitude on behalf of her and her staff to the Town of Newtown, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, former First Selectman Pat Llodra, the staff at Social Services, Newtown Police, Newtown Youth & Family Services, Kevin’s Community Center, The Resiliency Center of Newtown, Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, and all of its local providers for their partnership in the last two years.
“A program such as the CSW cannot thrive with just a few people. It takes others to believe in and share the results of the good work we are doing,” she said. “As we enter our third year, I want to thank Corinne Ofgang, our Community Care Navigator, Tricia Pinto, our VOCA Victims Family Navigator, and Valerie Le Cann Jones, our VOCA Survivor Care Navigator for their endless work and dedication to the populations they serve.”
Mr Rosenthal said he has been close to the efforts of the CSW since its inception.
“Having served on the Board of the Center for Support and Wellness, as well as the Newtown Recovery and Resiliency Team prior to being elected first selectman, I’ve witnessed the need for the services being provided by the CSW,”Mr Rosenthal said. “Helping to direct community members in need to appropriate behavioral health services and working to address gaps in services and programming is of critical importance to our goal of community wellness.”
A Strategic Mission
Most recently, the CSW has embarked on producing a strategic plan supporting a healthy community. Formulation of that plan has already begun with a consortium of local officials, town staffers, residents, and others meeting as a task force to first craft a definition of a healthy community through a behavioral health lens.
That task force, which previously met March 27 and April 3, will hold its final sessions Wednesday, April 11, and Tuesday, April 17, at 9:30 am, in the Council Chambers of the municipal center.
Residents and other stakeholders are encouraged to attend an April 10 public forum at 8 pm in the lower meeting room of Edmond Town Hall, or an April 11 forum at 8 am in the Council Chambers of the Municipal Center. The purpose of the forums are to gather public perspectives on Newtown’s collective mental health, and to hopefully finalize the definition and measurement of a “Healthy Community.”
“Creating this definition is the first step in the implementation of a long term plan for a healthy community,” Ms Crane said. “This defining of a healthy community will help to set the course for the predictors of behavioral health in Newtown and assist in reporting gaps and successes. I believe we need as much community input on this as possible. The definition is for Newtown and should be created by Newtown.”
The task force is also working on identifying gaps in service and advocating for solutions incorporating existing community resources and organizations. The CSW is using its website to post a survey for information to be collected regarding perceptions of behavioral health in Newtown.
At the same time, Ms Crane is collaborating with community leaders and organizations to source data, and plans to produce real-time updates on community health progress. Community organizations are also invited to submit event details and link their own websites to the CSW calendar.
All this, while Ms Crane and her staff continue to promote the CSW as a point of entry for community members seeking assistance for behavioral health and wellness resources, which are available through phone conferences or office visits, as well as online.
By Friday, April 6, Ms Crane said she expected the center’s website to contain a comprehensive listing of developments related to the task force’s work to date, and would be updated as they proceed.
The Referral Process
Ms Crane said the CSW supports everyone in the Newtown community — families and individuals — in a judgement-free, confidential environment.
“Facing stressful times is challenging enough,” she said. “The CSW aims to effectively connect community members with appropriate mental health and wellness resources. Everyone has a unique situation and some situations may require unique types of support.”
To explore options for support, Ms Crane advises residents to:
1. Call CSW at 203-270-4612 to discuss your need over the phone or make an appointment to visit the office on the Fairfield Hills campus;
2. During the appointment some brief information will be collected (such as the type of issue the caller or a loved one is experiencing, their current insurance situation, expectations, and travel limitations);
3. In a timely manner, individuals will be provided with resources that match their needs and insurance coverage, at a convenient location. CSW does the logistical legwork so visitors are not pressed to do it themselves;
4. Individuals will be provided enough information to contact a provider directly; and
5. A staff member from CSW will follow up until the individual or their loved one is connected with an appropriate provider.
“For children, we want to ensure they feel comfortable with any referral provided to the parents or guardian,” Ms Crane said. “So the CSW staff will typically work through parents and allow the first meeting the child has with a clinical professional and not with one of our staff. However, we are more than happy to welcome children into the center and they can be part of the referral process if parents prefer.”
Achievements To Date
Reflecting on her team’s work over the past two years, Ms Crane noted that to date, CSW has served more than 1,000 Newtown residents. In addition, CSW has:
*Created a Fitbit program to promote healthy activity for more than 265 town and school employees.
*Continued to host Office of Victim Services Grant and staff to provide resources to those directly impacted by 12/14.
*Launched a new website with a health and wellness calendar. All community organizations are invited to promote their own health and wellness information by e-mailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Brought a free NAMI Basic course to Newtown (go to newtowncsw.org for more information and to register).
*Created a database of more than 275 local providers who can help match community members with resources meeting their immediate needs.
*Developed annual provider surveys to gather demographics of providers and look at the type of challenges community members face when seeking therapy.
*Hosted numerous community partner and provider networking opportunities.
*Hosted four Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) training weekends for area providers.
*Created Depression and Bipolar Alliance Support Group on the last Monday of each month at 7 pm.
“The CSW continues to evolve as we see the need in the community,” Ms Crane said. “If any community member has thoughts or suggestions I welcome you to reach out to me. In addition, we want to come and present more information about the CSW to various organizations. If an organization would like more information, please let me know and we will come to you.”
Contact CSW at 203-270-4612; visit the center at 28 Trades Lane, adjacent to the main entrance to Fairfield Hills, or go online to newtowncsw.org