In October 2007, CHAT (Community Health Action Team), an initiative of ThedaCare, a local healthcare system, organized a daylong overview of mental health issues in the Fox Cities region of Wisconsin. It became apparent that our local mental health network was fragmented; individuals were having difficulty accessing and navigating the network. Out of this experience, a group of concerned volunteers formed a steering committee to begin discussing how we could address mental health services. Following is a condensed timeline of activity:
- Fall 2009 - five steering team members came together to determine how to bring the community together to improve mental health services. The vision was to create a “Mental Health Summit” which would bring people and organizations on the “front line” of dealing with individuals suffering from mental illness together. This included business, education, law enforcement, nonprofits, and health providers (both physical and mental health). We also agreed that we needed to have the voice of an individual(s) suffering from mental illness involved in the planning and implementation of our work.
- January 2010 - the steering team pulled together a group of about 20 representatives from a wide variety of perspectives to begin dialogue.
- Summer 2010 – conducted research to find other communities across the country that formed a system of care through community collaboration. We identified four to five communities that appeared to be addressing mental health issues in a new system of care. After consideration by the committee, it was agreed that Tarrant County Texas (Fort Worth area) had developed a system that deserved more exploration.
- Fall 2010 – committee members traveled to Tarrant County Texas to learn from the “Mental Health Connection” of Tarrant County. They developed a “no wrong door” approach for mental health meaning that regardless of where someone accessed the mental health network, the person was directed to the most appropriate care. They also created an information management system to share client data.
- Fall 2010 – The guiding collation also reached out to school administration and community leaders in Kaukauna in response to several teen suicides. That work has led to the “Connected Community” effort in Kaukauna.
- March 2011 – 150 key stakeholders from around the community came together for the Fox Cities Mental Health Summit. Attendees learned from a panel discussion of people connected to the field, as well as learned about the work that has taken place in Tarrant County. Attendees did some visioning work, and selected 5 key areas to work on:
- Create a not-for-profit connecting organization (Which has become the NEW Mental Health Connection)
- Strengthen 24/7 crisis response
- Implement a “no wrong door” approach in the Fox Cities
- Support school-based mental health efforts
- Educate/equip primary care providers to feel more confident diagnosing and treating mental health conditions.
- April 2011-Present – the committee has been working to establish its 501(c)(3) status. We have organized a charter board of directors, drafted articles of incorporation which were accepted by the state of Wisconsin on 6 June 2011, received our EIN, established banking relationships, and are working with a facilitator to help establish our strategic plan. In May 2012 we recieved our 501(c)(3) status and began work on hiring an Executive Director. In July 2012, Amanda Matthews became the Executive Director for the N.E.W. Mental Health Connection. Additionally, subcommittees have been formed and are working on the other four areas of focus developed at the Mental Health Summit (b – e above).
Future – for the foreseeable future our work will be concentrated on building our coalition and working to enhance access to and navigation of mental health services in the Fox Cities region of Wisconsin. The initial ways we plan on doing this are by working on the four areas of focus enumerated above.