Partnerships help JFCS expand behavioral health care services

“Eileen” is struggling. Once an independent business woman, she now finds herself isolated and depressed due to age-related macular degeneration and limited mobility. Her isolation is ironic, since her three grown children have moved back in with her. But as each of these adult children has either a mental or physical disability, Eileen doesn’t get the support she needs.

“The family dynamics are very dysfunctional,” explains Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona counselor Janice Friedman, LCSW. “There’s a lot of fighting among them that contributes to Eileen’s depression and anxiety.” Friedman intervenes with family therapy when the adult children are willing to participate. Since that’s not always possible, she’s helped Eileen recognize the triggers that set her off. She also helps her understand that her unchecked “parental controlling instincts” provoke negative reactions from her children. “By teaching Eileen communication and coping skills,” says Friedman, “we’ve given her the tools she needs to ‘self care.’”

JFCS has been providing behavioral health and counseling services to the local Jewish and greater community since 1941. As a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, JFCS receives an annual allocation from the Federation to help cover its operating costs. In addition, some of its programs have received additional support through the Federation’s Compelling Needs Grants.

Shira Ledman, president and CEO of Jewish Family & Children's Services
Shira Ledman, president and CEO of Jewish Family & Children’s Services

In recent years, JFCS has expanded its capacity to serve in the community by partnering with other social service and behavioral health organizations. Shira Ledman, JFCS president and CEO, explains that by working with other agencies, JFCS “maximizes impact in the community, without significantly raising our costs.” In effect, it finds ways to do more with less — the conundrum all human service agencies face due to reduced government grants and the corresponding need to identify new sources of funding.

Using partnerships to maximize resources is especially vital in difficult economic times. More people are finding themselves in crisis and they are often without health insurance to cover the costs of counseling. Additionally, Tucson’s aging demographic means there are more vulnerable, older adults in need of support services.

JFCS helps people like Eileen through its partnership in the Community Counseling Coalition for the Elderly. Together with Our Family Services and Catholic Community Services, with funding from the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, JFCS counselors and therapists provide support for the over-60 population that doesn’t have insurance or resources to cover the cost. But older adults comprise only a segment of the community JFCS serves. Sadly, it’s the very young who are often in situations of grave risk.

Five-year-old “K.D.” lived with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. When she came to visit her father in Tucson, he was alarmed by her extreme behaviors. He realized K.D. had been severely abused in her mother’s home and insisted she come to live with him. After K.D. moved in with her father, he recognized that the effects of years of abuse called for intensive treatment. K.D. was placed in a therapeutic residential environment with Intermountain Centers for Human Development for stabilization. JFCS partners with Intermountain and Pantano Behavioral Health Services to provide a comprehensive array of behavioral health services to children and their families, who, like K.D.’s, are on AHCCCS (pronounced “access”), Arizona’s Medicaid program.

JFCS’ expertise in trauma services for children — developed over many years through its Project Safe Place program — prompted Intermountain to ask for a JFCS child trauma therapist to work with K.D. while she was at the residential facility. Working together, the two agencies helped K.D. make the journey back to emotional stability. K.D. is now a happy six-year-old, reunited with her father and living a healthy lifestyle.

Most of us acknowledge that at some point in our lives, a challenging issue could trigger emotional or behavioral fallout that can destabilize our families. But we may not think it can happen to those who have the courage and strength to be first responders to disaster in our community.

“Joe” is a Tucson firefighter who is married with children and working toward expanding his skills by becoming a paramedic. In addition to his already difficult work schedule, he’s committed to extra hours of intensive classes and training. The additional time away from his family makes Joe feel guilty. He’s stressed about his inability to balance his relationship with his spouse, his parenting responsibilities and his own emotional needs. JFCS counselor Shoshana Elkins, LCSW, notes that “a few beers with his friends would be Joe’s typical remedy for handling his job and family conflicts, which of course take him away from his family even more. But through counseling Joe’s realized that there may be another way to find balance and bring him closer to his family.”

Elkins, who is JFCS vice president for programs and services, says the solution for Joe was to provide him with healthier tools to smooth out the rocky places on his career path and alleviate the problems in his family life. Joe and his family, says Elkins, have taken up a new hobby that offers them the quality time together they’ve needed. They make fishing flys and go on occasional fishing trips together.

JFCS helps Joe through its newly formed partnership with the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation. Mike McKendrick, a retired 31-year veteran of the Tucson Fire Department and the Fire Foundation’s chairman of the board of trustees, says that partnership “couldn’t have been more timely.” Citing a shockingly high number of recent suicides among firefighters in Phoenix, McKendrick says that he feels very fortunate for the partnership with JFCS that makes mental health and wellness counseling easily accessible for firefighters: “Our people know where to go and who to call. They are confident that the counselors are competent and that their confidentiality is respected.” He points to the fact that JFCS promises support to Tucson first responders and their families on a “rapid response” basis.

Among its new community partnerships, JFCS sends a therapist twice weekly to Emerge! Center Against Domestic Violence shelters, using trauma counseling experience acquired through programs like LEAH (Let’s End Abusive Households). Since 2000, the JFCS LEAH program has provided counseling, information and community outreach to Jewish families affected by domestic violence. A JFCS therapist also works with Tucson Hebrew Academy, providing support for students, families and staff.

Another new partnership is with New Pueblo Medicine, a primary care practice affiliated with Tucson Medical Center’s Arizona Connected Care. “A doctor at New Pueblo may recognize that a patient’s adverse health condition is being exacerbated by a behavioral or mental health issue. JFCS provides a therapist at New Pueblo Medicine who is available to assist in the integrated care of patients,” explains Ledman.

“This is the future,” says Ledman, “where behavioral health and physical health care providers, collaborating together, will improve overall patient care.”

Renee Claire is a freelance writer in Tucson.