Over the last year, North Carolinians dealt with natural disasters coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic causing physical, economic and emotional stress. The need for mental health services skyrocketed as people began living through unprecedented times. Vaya Health stepped up to work together with network prevention partners RHA Health Services and Mountain Projects to lead the initiative for the Crisis Counseling Program. This short-term disaster relief grant through Hope4NC is part of the local COVID-19 response to provide community outreach and access to mental health services. The program, based around the Hope4NC Helpline, lets people know they are not alone and that help with resources is just a phone call away.
“We do what we can for our members, but in extreme circumstances we took the extra step to let people know that we’re here for them,” said Kimberly Wilson, substance use provider network manager at Vaya Health. “You are not alone in this fight. We’ll walk through this hand-in-hand.”
The grant consists of two parts: Immediate Services Program (ISP) and Regular Services Program (RSP). ISP, which provided virtual counseling, community networking, crisis counselors and connection with other community-based agencies aiding mental health and well-being during the height of the crisis ended October 2020. RSP is an extension of the ISP services and was originally scheduled to end July 19, 2021. However, the rising numbers in cases has shown the need for continued supports throughout our local region. The helpline connects individuals with a licensed mental health clinician in their area who can also connect them with resources such as food, transportation and housing.
“There are established mental health care services throughout the region, but the crisis counseling program our team is implementing, along with the Hope4NC helpline, is important because of the supportive role it plays,” said Jacob Flannick, team lead at RHA Health Services. “At a time when people are perhaps particularly susceptible to mental health difficulties, such services are meant to ease whatever strain providers face. Moreover, our team is outreach-oriented, seeking to reach people considered particularly vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. Among them are those who are marginalized and socioeconomically disadvantaged. And such services are accessible ̶ they are free, informal (no identifying information is collected) and involve no eligibility criteria. As a result, they may reach people who are reluctant to access mental health care or for whom it remains out of reach.”
Counseling goals for RSP include mitigating stress, providing emotional support, developing coping strategies and ongoing education and outreach to support the well-being of individuals seeking services. Although the need for services and the shortage was clear when the grant program began, Kimberly and the others did not realize just how critical it was. People were being impacted in ways they had never been before in their lives. Even for those that were employed, many were struggling with isolation from being at home or dealing with childcare and education. Kimberly said that if they were stressed, imagine what those who were going through it while unemployed were feeling.
“There are so many layers in thinking about the number of people that need help,” said Kimberly. “We’re trying to do as much as we possibly can to address the need in the communities we serve.”
People often don’t know where to go to get the resources that they need or even what’s available. To get the word out about the program and the number to call if you need help, Vaya and the partner organizations distributed promotional materials, including calendars, yard signs, coloring books and more.
“Our small group of crisis counselors covers 15 of the 22 counties Vaya Health oversees,” said Jacob. “For our part, we can follow up with callers within our catchment area who indicate that they want additional support. While our group has followed up with only a few callers so far, we have provided support to about two dozen people across the region, offering brief counseling, assessing their situations and suggesting referrals. We’ve encountered people struggling with anxiety, depression, excessive stress, social isolation and economic hardship, among other difficulties.”
Mountain Projects covers the remaining seven counties in the Vaya Health area providing the same supports as RHA. With county partners, Mountain Projects had four drive-through resource fairs, delivering county resource materials to over 300 individuals, and continues to provide outreach. Because of the continued need in our communities, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) will continue grant funding for RSP through October 18, 2021. If you are in need of services or know someone who is, call the free Hope4NC Helpline to be connected to resources in your area and encourage others to do the same.
“You are not alone,” said Kimberly. “We see you. We hear you. That’s what this program is really about.”
Hope4NC Helpline (855) 587-3463