Newtown and the Need for Mental Health Services in Connecticut

The tragedy in Newtown has touched us all. Aside from the horror and the sadness, it has also awakened the community to the need for mental health services. It is time for all of us in this community to realistically assess what mental health services are available in our own community to individuals who suffer from emotional and mental illnesses and who cannot afford private care.

Jewish Family Service, while never a large agency, still deals with the same realities of other private not-for profits that provide mental health services in Connecticut. We were supported by a mixture of community funding, governmental funding, fees for service and private donations. We accepted clients with mental and emotional illnesses on a “sliding scale” so no one was denied services due to inability to pay full fee. We are an accredited mental health provider, licensed by the State of Connecticut as an outpatient psychiatric clinic for both children and adults, utilize masters level and above professionals and in general, offered the highest quality professional services available.

Jewish Family Service was considered by many to be a “community gem”. Unfortunately, I now speak in the past tense because years of cuts to both the community and governmental funding streams have reduced our ability to continue providing the wide spectrum of mental health service that we traditionally provided.


What has changed?

A combination of the economic downturn, a shifting of priorities and an unwillingness of funding sources to pay for agency administration and operational needs have drastically reduced the funding necessary for JFS to see clients suffering with mental illness.
We use our local Jewish Federation as an example of how community funding has changed. In 2009 they allocated $70,000 to JFS. Today they allocate $0.

The past allocation allowed the agency to subsidize mental health services as well as to provide for professional staff salary and agency operations. Repeat this same scenario for other community funders such as the United Way and for government funders such as the State of Connecticut and approximately $300,000 of funding that paid for services to the community and kept the doors to the agency open are now only $13,000 in total. Is there any wonder why people with mental illness are having a hard time finding needed professional services in Connecticut?    


Which Mental Health Services were cut and which remain?

In the case of Jewish Family Service, the biggest blows to individuals suffering from severe mental illness were the losses of the agency psychiatrist and the reduction of therapeutic staff. The unreimbursed costs of providing psychiatric services made it impossible for JFS to sustain its professional staff. Without a psychiatrist and additional therapists on staff, Jewish Family Service lost the ability to offer prescriptions for psychotropic medications and to see clients on a longer term basis. Both are essential for the treatment of individuals with major mental illnesses.

This means that the most severely disturbed members of our community can no longer benefit from JFS mental health services.

JFS still maintains a child psychologist, clinical social workers, a marriage and family therapist and a licensed professional counselor, many part time. All still see clients, but not those who require medications.


What about the immediate crisis and long term solution?

During this immediate crisis, all of the above professionals are available to meet with any child or adult in the community that feels the need to talk about the Newtown tragedy. There is no charge for these services. Please tell your family and friends that professionals are available at Jewish Family Service if they are struggling to cope with this horrific incident and need to talk.

As should be clear, the system of providing mental health services in Connecticut is broken. With the abduction of community and governmental support, the only sources of income remaining are client’s fees and individual contributions. With client fees a less than reliable source of income, the weight of the system is now being supported by private donors. This is why JFS needs to keep asking for your support. Thank you and we appreciate your support!

Harvey Paris, President
Jewish Family Service, Bpt CT

We would appreciate your letting your elected officials and community funding sources know that not-for-profit agencies proving mental health services need to be supported once again.

How can I help? Click here.