Access to behavioral health

Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers

Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers has been a south side staple for more than 50 years, serving as a medical home to nearly 43,000 primarily underinsured or uninsured and predominately Latino individuals.

In March, when COVID-19 began to significantly impact Milwaukee, the community health center realized it needed to make adjustments to the way it conducted business to ensure the safety of its patients and staff while still meeting demands for services. Behavioral health – including substance abuse services and mental health treatment for children, adolescents, and adults – was one of the areas in great demand due to the heightened stress caused by the pandemic. Some clients feared they or a family member would become infected. Still others were concerned they would lose their jobs. Many felt disconnected from loved ones due to Wisconsin’s safer-at-home order. Overall, there was a great sense of anxiety and irritability. 

“Whatever issues people were dealing with before are magnified with confinement,” said Alison True, director of communications.

While most of the agency’s medical providers had laptops to provide telehealth services, its behavioral health services providers did not. Thanks to a $35,150 MKE Responds Fund grant the agency received in April, it purchased 50 laptops so staff could offer critically important treatment in a new way.

Admittedly there has been a bit of a learning curve with its patient population as many patients were not accustomed to accessing care online. But once they overcome any hurdles, most are excited to connect through video rather than a phone call, True said. 

True said the new delivery model also has allowed the agency to “break down the barriers that COVID-19 has amplified.” For example, some parents in need of services are unable to find someone to watch their children as many child care centers have temporarily closed. Now they can access providers without even leaving their home. 

“The (funding) has been extremely important because it gave us the ability to have both our providers and patients connect in a safe environment,” True said. 

Meeting Milwaukee’s mental health challenges is one of the key priority areas of the MKE Civic Response Team, the cross-sector coalition addressing COVID-19 in Milwaukee. It is finding there is an even greater need to leverage nontraditional methods, like telehealth, to help with mental health needs during this “new normal.” The group’s goal is to unite the city to better leverage resources to meet mental, physical and social needs of residents, particularly people of color who are disproportionately impacted and need targeted support.

Return to COVID-19 home

Learn more

Our Donor Resources – COVID-19 page offers information and tools for Foundation donors who want to help.