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New grant expected to help mental health center patients as well as staff

The grant is intended to help The Centers reach out to and re-engage those that had difficulty accessing mental health during COVID-19.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our collective mental health. For some, it has also impacted access to behavioral health services.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded The Centers for Youth and Families a $5,000,000 grant to support the delivery of services impacted by COVID-19.

The Centers is the Community Mental Health Center serving Pulaski County residents south of the Arkansas River. It provides low-income, uninsured, or underinsured individuals with a wide spectrum of mental health services.

"We're here for all members of our community," grant writer Lindsey Cooper said. "We also provide services not just in the clinic setting, but actually in homes, in the community in schools, trying to meet the needs of individuals where they are."

The Centers did its best to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic — never closing its doors and adding telemedicine services. Even so, patient care was impacted.

"A lot of people that wanted to come in couldn't come in because of the pandemic," outpatient clinical supervisor Brian Oman said. "It's just been really impactful for mental health all the way around."

The grant is intended to help The Centers reach out to and re-engage those that had difficulty accessing mental health and other wrap-around services during COVID-19 or have developed new needs due to the pandemic.

"There's still a lot of anxiety about coming inside places, just being in public, the uncomfortableness of the masks and all that kind of stuff," Oman said. "So we're going to get out there in the streets, and in the homes where people are."

Medical Director Dr. Kelly Hair said telephone appointments were effective in keeping The Centers connected with patients. However, she believes the return to in-person appointments highlights the need for enhanced virtual options.

"Once the public health emergency ended, and we went back to in-person appointments, I think we have seen a pretty significant drop-off in people coming in for their appointments, which is alarming," Hair said. "If we can add a video component, even reaching them on their cell phones, that's going to be really helpful."

Hair hopes the grant will make that a reality — not only helping patients, but also staff who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic.

"Personal interaction with our patients really drives job satisfaction in this field, I feel," Hair said. "So having [patients] come back has been great for us. And I think that if we are to do telehealth from here on out, having a video component is really important in order to maintain our job satisfaction and hopefully not contribute to burnout."

The Centers will accept patients regardless of their ability to pay and can provide services on the same day. The 24-hour crisis hotline can be reached at 501-666-8686.