The Bridge Family Center held a ribbon cutting Thursday to celebrate the opening of the clinic in the Elmwood section of West Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
The COVID-19 pandemic may have delayed the official celebration of the Bridge Family Center’s new mental health clinic on Shield Street in West Hartford, but counselors have been using the space, and serving more clients than ever, since the it opened in August 2020.
Margaret Hann, executive director of the Bridge, said the organization became a licensed outpatient clinic in 2008, and since then has opened new offices in Rockville and Avon, as well as Elmwood.
“Thousands of people have come through the doors of our clinics since we opened,” Hann said. “Having a clinic in the Elmwood section of town has long been a dream of the Bridge.”
The location offers nine counseling offices, which allows the Bridge to meet increased demand. It’s near the Family Resource Center at Charter Oak International Academy, as well as the Hillcrest Area Neighborhood Outreach Center where the organization already has a presence.
“We are in an area of town that we need to be in,” Hann said, noting that some people are put off by having to go to West Hartford Center for services.
“This is great for us, to be here, to be in this beautiful building, to open our doors to another group of folks in West Hartford … all those people who have walked through our doors who have struggled to meet life’s challenges,” said Hann. Not everyone needs long-term care, she said, but rather help getting over “speed bumps,” and managing the “curve balls” that life throws them.
In the past year, counseling sessions have increased by 76%, Hann said. “We see people that are much more troubled, really struggling with anxiety and depression to begin with, and the pandemic has only made that worse.”
Services at the clinic, offered to individuals and families regardless of their ability to pay, include crisis counseling, stabilization, and therapy for individuals, couples, and families. Counselors focus on promoting mental health and improving functioning, effectively reducing the prevalence and incidence of mental illness, emotional disturbances, and social dysfunction.
In FY2021, Bridge staff held 11,375 counseling sessions, up from 9,782 the prior year. Many clients participated in multiple sessions per week.
While the Bridge is often associated with providing services to children, according to Bridge staff the number of adult mental health cases has also increased dramatically over the past year, from 148 clients with 2,361 appointments to 190 adult clients attending 4,160 appointments.
Hann said when staff come together to discuss challenges, “I often ask the staff to visualize the people on our waiting list standing on the front lawn, and then I ask them what can we do to get them in that front door,” she said, to be more accessible and efficient.
“The Bridge Elmwood opens its doors and invites people standing outside to come in,” said Hann. “We are so grateful to have earned their trust.”
Appointed Board of Directors members Mayor Shari Cantor and Amanda Aronson, a member of the West Hartford Board of Education, as well as Pete Macdonald, a member Bridge’s Board of Directors, state Rep. Kate Farrar, and Town Councilor Liam Sweeney, were among those who attended the ribbon cutting event, along with Bridge Director of Clinical Operations Shannon Tighe and other staff members.
Hann also noted that following a year-long process, the Bridge has just been accredited by the Council on Accreditation, and did so on the first try – which is achieved by only 30% of organizations. “I’m very, very proud of that,” she said.
Cantor, who had previously toured the new space, congratulated Hann on the accreditation, and the opening. “I saw the amount of space, and the opportunity to expand, and the number of visits has really, really grown, and the need obviously has grown,” she said.
“The challenges are really hard right now, there is such need, so much anxiety,” Cantor said. “If we can help people before they’re in crisis and give them that support and those avenues for helping before they get to that critical stage, this is what it’s all about.”
West Hartford and the Bridge have been partners for a long time, Cantor said. “And we are so grateful for the incredible support, the partnership through the West Hartford Public Schools, through the town, and we are a better town, a more caring town … I talk about the ‘heart’ in West Hartford and much of it is because of the Bridge.”
“Each and every one of you needs to know how life-changing you are,” Farrar said to Hann and Bridge staff. “Each action that you take as a part of the Bridge really does change individuals’ lives.”
Moving into the Elmwood community, is “really transformational,” Farrar said, providing a space that area residents can access not just by driving, but also by walking or by bus. “They can feel like this place, all of you, are a part of their neighborhood,” she said.
“It’s okay not to be okay,” Farrar said, and knowing that there are people at the Bridge “ensuring that we know not only is it okay not to be okay, but that at every phase of life, whether we have lost a loved one, whether we have been bullied in school, whether we are transitioning our sexual identity, that all of those phases of life are completely normal and that we don’t have to go it alone. … You being here has already changed lives.”
This was the first time the Bridge held a ribbon cutting, but it won’t be the last, Hann said. Two more facilities – one at 1021 Farmington Ave. in West Hartford in a building that the Bridge owns right next to its shelter, and one just over the line in Hartford – will be opening this year.
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