1By Will Stahl
Not all that long ago the idea that children could have mental health issues would have seemed absurd. Children with problem behaviors were “difficult,” “lazy,” “dreamy,” “ornery,” ”timid,” or “nervous.” They needed to be “taught a lesson,” or they would “grow out of it.” In the twenty-first century most people understand that children suffer from most of the same mental issues that adults do, depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, deep-seated anger. But children are not little adults; they have their own needs, related to their developmental level. They require mental health services administered with an understanding of those differences.
But once parents realize that their children need help, where do they find those specific services? In the Fox Cities they now have Catalpa Health, dedicated to the mental health needs of children. To learn what they have to offer, I interviewed the president and CEO Lisa Kogan-Praska, who radiated enthusiasm and energy for her work.
The initiative that became Catalpa Health began in 2006 with a LIFE study funded by United Way. LIFE (Local Indicators for Excellence) studies examine the quality of life in particular communities, in this case, the Fox Cities. One of the findings was a need for mental health services for children.
In response, Affinity, Thedacare, and the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin came together to form a partnership called Fox Cities Children’s Mental Health. Within three months they found they had 5,000 children needing services. Average wait-time to see a therapist was 54 days.
By 2011 the service gap remained an issue. The partners realized they needed a big commitment and a large investment. Mental health services typically lose money and cannot be relied on to support themselves, so they combined efforts, and after two years of study and planning, in February, 2012, Catalpa Health opened its doors as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, dedicated solely to improving access to pediatric mental health services. Its focus was on providing care “at the right time and the right place,” that is, as soon as possible and close to home. The initial goal was to double the availability of service over five years.
By the beginning of 2014, they were hearing that wait times were still too long,
Kogan-Praska explained. Parents who felt their children or their families were in crisis felt lost and alone while they waited for services; they asked for an “urgent care” model for mental health.
Last spring Catalpa held a “process improvement” event. Twenty stakeholders (therapists, psychiatrists, parents, etc.) spent two days in a room discussing the question: “What would ideal access look like?”
Based on the conclusions reached at the event, Catalpa determined that people should get some services immediately. Those who call the access center are triaged by a call specialist; those whose needs are urgent receive appointments within 24 hours. In 3-5 days, those whose needs are less critical meet with an intake specialist who develops a treatment plan and connects clients with a case manager if necessary. That person steers them to the help they need and monitors their progress.
Treatment may occur in-house at Catalpa, or depending on need and availability, may be directed to a partner agency or private practice. Catalpa Health works closely with NAMI-Fox Cities (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and has collaborative relationships with many other agencies and practices. Wait time for services is now down from 54 days to five at most.
Catalpa Health deals with the whole range of pediatric mental health issues: depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorders, school underachievement, behavior problems, anger management, grief, physical or sexual abuse, emotional trauma, family issues, and neuropsychological testing. They treat children from the age at which parents notice the problem––typically about age four, but sometimes younger––until the child is high school-graduation age.
Services provided include individual counseling, family counseling, group counseling for children and parents, psychological testing, and medication management.
Services are also available to families having a member coming out of in-patient treatment. The staff at Catalpa has 34 therapists, including counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and nurse-practitioners with psychiatric certification.
Kogan-Praska told me they look to expand, always asking, “What does the community need?” They have expanded services to include more intensive outpatient treatment, specialty areas of diagnoses, and on-site services in some area schools. Since Catalpa opened the access center, it has grown from 27 staff members to nearly 60. A seven million dollar capital development campaign has raised 2.7 million dollars toward that goal.
When they realized that nearly a third of their clients were from the Oshkosh area, they opened a center in that city. “The community is our fourth partner,” Kogan-Praska said. “Catalpa supports the entire community, and the community supports it.
“The catalpa tree is known for its heart-shaped leaves and its broad, comforting shade. When the leaves fall, it is very messy––a good analogy for mental health services.” May this catalpa long keep its leaves.
If you or someone you know is in need of children’s mental health services, Catalpa Health is located at 444 N. Westhill Boulevard, Appleton, and 1821 Witzel Avenue, Oshkosh. Information at www.catalpahealth.org. Phone 920-750-7000 for an appointment or more information.
Catalpa Health Grows and Branches
1By Will Stahl