Mental Health Navigators Offer Help for the Whole Family

Since launching in March 2020, the Mental Health Navigators (MHN) program has offered help for the whole family.

The program is offered through counseling departments at school districts in Lee and Collier counties. The goal is to connect children facing mental health challenges and their families with resources.

“We are providing the most at-risk children and families in Southwest Florida with a haven for them to learn to accept, advocate for, and receive support for themselves and their children. We are helping them realize that progress is possible, and hope is real,” said Richard Keelan, child advocacy manager at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

The program now employs seven MHNs and has served 120+ children and their families since starting the pilot program in 2020. Recently, Golisano Children’s Hospital added a MHN to address families and patients who have been repeatedly hospitalized through the Baker Act. Numbers for this emergency mental health intervention have skyrocketed during the pandemic.

MHNs connect families to mental health services; help families become self-sufficient in meeting their mental health care needs; secure funds for purchasing basic needs, such as food, toiletries and clothes; help with auto repairs for work-related purposes; and help families apply for assistance.

The numbers are impressive. However, the tangible impact on families because of this program is the real measure of success. Here is one family’s story.

Help for Inae’Zha

Inae’Zha Smith, 16, tried to remain upbeat and smile when people greeted her. However, it was difficult because she was receiving Hospital Home Bound school instruction that isolated her from her peers. Eventually, school officials and the family became concerned that isolation and loneliness were leading her on a pathway to depression. As a result, they referred her to the Mental Health Navigators program in May 2021. Mental Health Navigator Peggy Jugmahansingh worked with Inae’Zha and her family.

Inae’Zha had plenty to worry about. She became blind and paralyzed in 2020 from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) caused by Covid-19. This drastically impacted her mental and physical wellbeing. Her father, Derron, was raising three teenagers alone in Naples. Derron lost hours of work, which resulted him earning less and taking time off to care for his daughter. 

In August 2021, the family became homeless. Inae’Zha and her father moved in with his sister. Her two other brothers moved in with their grandmother.

It Takes a Village 

The homelessness program at the Collier County Public School District (CCPS) referred the family to NAMI Collier County’s Supportive Housing Program. In the meantime, the district was able to get Inae’Zha into in-person school at the end of September at Palmetto High School, which has the facilities, services and staff to accommodate her physical challenges. 

Through NAMI’s program and the Hunger and Homeless Coalition of Collier County, the family moved together into a hotel in November.  

In January, the family moved into a home in East Naples secured by the NAMI program. The school district worked to get Inae’Zha into Lely High School, which is closer to the new home. The NAMI program will pay several months of rent to allow the family to get back on its feet. In August 2021, both her father and his oldest son had found full-time employment. 

A Family’s Gratitude for Mental Health Navigators 

The Mental Health Navigators program offered help to the whole family through a network of agencies. This support was necessary to help Inae’Zha succeed in school and helps her family to be able to help her. 

The program helps close gaps between student needs and what schools and families can do without outside assistance. This wraparound approach combines intensive care coordination and relationships to help families. The goal is for families to learn how to rely on their own resources without the program’s help.  

“This is on behalf of my brother, Derron Smith, and his family, to express our sincere gratitude to all who supported, guided, sponsored and assisted Derron and his children in so many ways,” wrote Kimberley Alphonse, Derron Smith’s sister. “I’m fully aware that all this began when my brother’s family was referred by CCPS to Kids’ Minds Matter/Mental Health Navigators program at Golisano Children’s Hospital.” 

While many others helped stabilize the family, Alphonse credits MHN Jugmahansingh with helping connect the resources.  

“We could never put together this letter without thanking Peggy for her countless phone calls and emails,” Alphonse wrote. “I cannot sufficiently express how those meetings with Derron after work at your Naples location inspired him. 

Supporting Mental Health Navigators 

MHN is administered and supervised by Kids’ Minds Matter at Golisano Children’s Hospital. The program is fully funded by philanthropy. MHNs have had their own firsthand experiences navigating mental health issues of a family member or child. They understand the frustration and challenges of getting help.  

“We take this opportunity to thank the entire team of individuals, Golisano’s Mental Health Navigator program, businesses, and charities for their unwavering support and guidance,” Alphonse wrote. “By infusing this family with new hope and energies, you showed us that all was not lost and that we matter. You all have proven to us that good people still exist in a world of uncertainty, distress, chaos and lack of brotherly love.” 

Help us reach more families in our community by supporting the MHN program today.

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Founded in 2016, Kids’ Minds Matter is a unified movement in Southwest Florida dedicated to advancing pediatric mental and behavioral health services. By developing clinical pathways to screen and treat patients, enhancing public awareness through education, and lobbying for systemic change and sustainable funding, Kids’ Minds Matter aims to align mental health providers, local agencies, the judicial system, law enforcement, schools and faith-based organizations. Kids’ Minds Matter is managed through the Lee Health Foundation.

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