Catalyst Members Start Discussion of 2016 Theme: “Addressing the Mental Health Challenge”

More than 100 members and guests attended the first meeting of the 2016 Catalyst Endowment Fund at the Little Theatre of Manchester at Cheney Hall on March 23 to begin their discussion around this year’s theme, “Addressing the Mental Health Challenge.”

Hartford Foundation president Linda J. Kelly welcomed members and guests to the meeting. She discussed the important role that Catalyst and the other two Hartford Foundation giving circles play as a way to offer residents a role in supporting the important work being done by the region’s nonprofit organizations.

Kelly then introduced United States Senator Chris Murphy, who discussed new bipartisan legislation he has co-sponsored to comprehensively overhaul and strengthen America’s mental health care system. According to Murphy, this new legislation will make critical reforms to address a lack of resources, enhance coordination, and develop meaningful solutions to improve outcomes for families dealing with mental illness. Murphy shared the example of his visit to a Connecticut emergency room where a young person in crisis was forced to wait for several weeks before receiving an exam with a therapist due to the alarmingly low number of mental health professionals available. He said that his legislation would increase resources and enhance the availability of preventative services to increase the reliance on emergency room visits for people facing a mental health crisis.

Kathleen Costello, chair of the Catalyst Endowment Fund steering committee, provided guests with additional information about the Catalyst Endowment Fund and described the process members engage in each year. Members learn about a chosen topic by holding two informational events with expert speakers and discussions review and consider requests for proposals related to the issue from area nonprofits, and hold a grantmaking meeting where members discuss the proposals and vote to award grants. Costello also reported the latest stats for Catalyst including that it ended 2015 with 113 memberships and that its current fund balance is over $1,165,000.

Costello introduced Dwayne Harris, the executive director of the Little Theatre of Manchester, who offered some brief welcoming remarks and provided some information about the Theatre and the many productions and activities it hosts.

Costello then introduced the keynote speaker for the evening, Alice Forrester, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Clifford Beers Child Guidance Clinic. In an informative but relaxed, sometimes humorous and often heartbreaking presentation, Forrester discussed some of the challenges people face and ways to improve mental health outcomes.

Forrester emphasized the need to change how mental health is currently defined as separate from other health issues. She pointed out that most physicians only receive one semester of coursework focused on mental health despite the fact that mental health directly impacts physical health. Forrester discussed the need to be more flexible and creative in order to integrate mental and physical health care services. She discussed how mental health professionals providing services in pediatricians’ offices would require separate licensing, making it more difficult to offer these services in a health care setting. She also talked about the challenges of getting insurance companies to cover mental health care services.

Forrester also discussed an emerging trend where both parents and children are screened and treated for mental health issues. This two-generational approach recognizes that many children who are challenged by mental health issues have parents who also struggle with issues of their own that need to be addressed.

Finally, Forrester discussed the key barriers to innovation including the flawed medical reimbursement structures, siloed funding streams where services are funded through multiple agencies, a general lack of knowledge and understanding about mental health issues, and inadequate funding for prevention services.

Following Forrester’s presentation, members of the audience posed a variety of questions including concerns about the incredibly high cost of psychotropic medications. In response to this particular concern, Forrester stressed the fact that with proper preventative services and therapies, there can be a significant reduction in the amounts of expensive medications people need to take. Other questions related to the long-term impact of post-traumatic stress, particularly on young people, and the role of school nurses in helping to identify children with mental health treatment needs.

Finally, Costello introduced Hartford Foundation senior program officer Judy McBride who highlighted several mental-health related grants recently offered by the Hartford Foundation. Included among these was a grant to the Institute of Living to provide peripartum mood disorder education and support services for women who are pregnant, contemplating a pregnancy or have already given birth. Another grant McBride discussed supported a bilingual education program sponsored locally by NAMI (National Alliance on mental Illness) to support families who have children with mental health concerns and educators with a focus early identification and intervention, with a particular emphasis on English Language Learners. A third grant funded a program offered by Integrated Health Services to implement a comprehensive behavioral health approach to identify and reduce behaviors that may lead to suspensions or expulsions among preschoolers, an indicator for future issues. McBride also talked about the nearly 60 year-old Newton C. and Elsie B. Brainard Fund at the Hartford Foundation which offers eligible Greater Hartford residents financial assistance to help relieve them of hardship due to substantial medical bills related to a chronic or serious medical condition.

The Catalyst Endowment Fund will hold its next program on June 15, 2016 at the Connecticut Science Center. Please contact Betty Ann Grady at or 860-548-1888 x1055 with any questions about this program. 


Video: Full meeting


Video: Senator Chris Murphy talks about mental health reform