Two Middletown nonprofits are among the organizations that will share nearly $1.7 million in grants from the COVID-19 Behavioral Health Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation announced today. The grants come as they report a surge in stress due to the crisis. 

“The health and economic effects of the pandemic are creating significant behavioral health challenges for too many in our community,” said Neil D. Steinberg, president, and CEO of the Foundation in a statement. “We hope this funding gives our nonprofit partners the resources to help address the increases in depression, isolation, suicide, and substance abuse that we are seeing during these challenging times.”

Child & Family and the James L. Maher Center in Middletown are among the 31 organizations that received funding. (The full list of awardees and a brief description of what each grant will support is posted here.)

The Maher Center will develop agile programming and provide access to technology that supports behavioral health care through telehealth services and virtual social contacts. 

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“The soul of our organization is social interaction, which has, of course, diminished for everyone during the pandemic,” said Lynne Maher, executive director in a statement. “For members of our Maher Center community, volunteer assignments, employment opportunities and virtually all other community-based activity was suspended in the blink of an eye this spring.”

“Some of our community members were isolated at home. Our group home residents were no longer able to enjoy visits with family members. The behavioral health implications of this experience – for our Maher Center community and for all people – will be with us for a long time to come,” she said.

The organization, which serves residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Newport County, expects to help approximately 200 people with the grant.

“As is often the case, crisis revealed opportunity,” she continued. “The vital importance of sustaining virtual connections – for telehealth services, for ‘visits’ with family and friends, and for enjoying arts and other programming – was highlighted in stark relief. This funding makes it possible for us to ensure that our community will always be supported and connected – during natural disasters and times of individual challenges, as well as during infectious disease outbreaks,” said Maher. 

Child & Family will hire a clinical care coordinator in order to meet the increase in behavioral health needs in East Bay communities as a result of the pandemic. The additional staff will support their current team to quickly screen clients and link them to appropriate services. Child & Family expects the grant will enable it to serve an additional 55 clients.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the communities we serve. Sudden job loss has left many of our clients unable to pay for food, medication, housing, and transportation among other things.  The social distancing mandate, while in place to keep the vulnerable safe, has separated many of our clients from the family, friends and other supports they relied on to maintain their mental and physical health,” said Marty Sinnott, president, and CEO in a statement.

“The impact of isolation – particularly on children and the elderly – increases the risk for abuse, domestic violence, and substance use. Child & Family will increase our behavioral health services in order to meet the needs of new and existing clients in crisis,” he said.

This is the second round of grants from the COVID-19 Behavioral Health Fund at the Foundation, established by the state Office of the Health Commissioner (OHIC) with more than $5 million in funding from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, Tufts Health Plan and UnitedHealthCare. The fund now has distributed more than $5.3 million in funding since May.

“It is critical that we use this funding from our health insurers to meet some of the elevated pressures and challenges that this pandemic has placed upon on our behavioral health care providers and the individuals and families that need these vital health care services,” said state Health Commissioner Marie Ganim.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $47 million and awarded a record $56 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2019. Through leadership, fundraising, and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.

For more information, visit rifoundation.org.

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