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Mental health funds distributed

Survivors of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma now have more resources to help pay for mental health services.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BALTIMORE | January 12, 2007

Survivors of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma now have more resources to help pay for mental health services.

The American Red Cross Hurricane Recovery Program's "Access to Care" is designed to help survivors obtain mental health and substance abuse services regardless of where they now live. The program was launched in October but is now getting pushed even more as the process for the first wave of applicants has moved along quickly and smoothly, said an ARCHRP spokesperson.

"We have over 1,600 people completely enrolled now," said Jeanne Ellinport, the director of communications for ARCHRP. "That means they've gone through all the paperwork needed. And we've had more than 5,500 total cases created for people who started the paperwork."

Ellinport said she knows the cases will increase as word spreads amongst all the state mental health agencies and other ARCHRP partners. For the agencies managing casework for the three hurricanes, the program will be a great benefit to those they serve.

"I was thrilled to hear about Access to Care," said Stephanie Lundgreen, family advocate manager for Rita Recovery in southeast Texas. "I'm especially happy to hear that it's retroactive."

According to an informational sheet from ARCHRP, Access to Care can be the primary payment source for those who have no insurance or other resources, covers related out-of-pocket expensive for those who have existing mental health insurance, allows individuals to choose their own licensed provider, and is retroactive to Aug. 30, 2005.

The eligibilty requirements for Access to Care cover those who lost an immediate family member to the hurricanes and "anyone who resided in a pre-disaster ZIP code prior to landfall in one of the counties designated by (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) for individual assistance." The program lists impacts to residents of those ZIP codes such as being displaced from one's home or school, having participated in the rescue or recovery effort, having sustained severe damage or destruction to one's home, having lost one's employment and more.

The program is administered by Link2Health Solutions, a private non-profit subsidiary of The Mental Health Association of NYC.

Ellinport said the decision to create such a program stemmed from the ARC's work done after every disaster. "We have mental health officers that go in after disasters and do casework and understand all this from a mental health aspect," explained Ellinport. "We looked at the need (after these hurricanes) and knew it would increase. We're also now hearing about more and more problems for children, and hopefully this will help them."

For Lundgreen, the need for this type of program is obvious in the work Rita Recovery does everyday, and based on her work, she has a hunch about who might need the assistance most. "I think what we're going to see is a respone more from women than from men," she explained. "I say that because I tagged along recently on a home visit and we had a situation where the couple was elderly and living in a FEMA trailer on their daughter's property. The husband had fallen apart the day before, that's why we were there. The person doing this home visit asked him if he wanted assistance with mental health issues and he said he didn't. But then the wife very softly said, 'But I need help.'

Lundgreen said that the rest of the family had been leaning heavily on the woman and she'd had no one to talk to. Both her husband and daughter were coping with disability issues. "I think whoever's the stronger female in the household will ask for help."

She added that Rita Recovery will start pushing the program heavily starting this month and include outreach to the local Spanish-speaking communities as well. "I think we'll see a decent response in January," Lundgreen noted. "I think people often hold it together during the holidays but that it comes to a head in January."

The deadline to register for Access to Care is October 1, 2007, so agencies will be pushing registration hard for much of the year. Once registered, the deadline for covered services is April 1, 2008. To register, those eligible can either call the Access to Care hotline or go to the program's Web site. From there, the registrant will speak with a benefit coordinator who will "walk them through the enrollment and program benefits, and, if necessary, find local resources." The program covers services provided by licensed professionals such as physicians, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family counselors, licensed acupuncturists, certified alcohol and substance abuse counselors and others.

"This program is open nationwide, no matter where they are," said Ellinport. "They just need to call or log on. It's truly confidential and truly that easy. We've received a lot of positive response so far on how easy it is and how friendly it is."


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