A Roanoke organization will shut down Thursday after more than 70 years of advocating for people with mental illnesses.
Mental Health America of Roanoke Valley worked with three local nonprofits to take over its key programs. Bradley Free Clinic will take over the free psychiatric clinic, which offers help to those who cannot afford to access mental health care. Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare will provide mental health training for police, and Total Action for Progress will continue the unique arts therapy for children exposed to domestic violence.
Board president Mariana Fortier said the organization was unable to raise enough funds to sustain its programs, so the priority became finding a way for them to continue once the organization shut down.
“Mental Health America wasn’t just those three programs, but what will be lost for our community will be the advocacy work, education and educational opportunities that were provided,” Fortier said. “Truthfully, over the last year, with the limited funds, some of these have been scaling down anyways, and the focus has been on these three programs.”
The organization was led for about 30 years by Diane Kelly, who retired at the end of 2016.
Fortier said the last few years have been difficult. The nonprofit’s tax filings show fundraising began to drop the year after Kelly’s departure, and expenditures outpaced revenue.
Revenue had fallen from about $385,000 in fiscal year 2016 to about $339,000 the following year, the latest year that forms are publicly available.
Fortier said several funding sources dropped off.
Kelly’s replacement left after a year and a half, and the board last summer hired Annie Harvey as executive director.
“She’s done a great job with where we were at the time and taking us forward, and really ramping up fund-raising and expanding our donors,” Fortier said. But it wasn’t enough.
By May, the organization had enough operating funds for three to four months as its annual fundraising walk for mental health approached.
“We knew unless the walk was successful — which it ended up being successful — and some of the other grants that were written would come through, it would not be sustainable. We were still hopeful,” she said. “However, over the summer when a few of the grants didn’t come though, just getting the funds from the walk was not sufficient.”
The goal then became to find a home for its key programs.
Mental Health America of Roanoke Valley has run the Roanoke Valley Mental Health Care Collaborative, in which medical professionals volunteer to see people who ordinarily cannot access mental health care. The program, which serves 150 patients, is believed to be the only free psychiatric clinic in Virginia.
The collaborative’s model is similar to how the Bradley Free Clinic offers physical health and dental care.
“The legacy of the support that has been provided to so many individuals in our community, and there have been so many positives, when I talked with Diane, with her legacy, it is definitely sad, and it can feel so overwhelming that it’s gone,” Fortier said. “I do want to focus on all the accomplishments and the fact that the collaborative has been built out and is so successful. None of that will change. It will continue with the Bradley Clinic.”
The program that trains law enforcement officers how to de-escalate situations when people are experiencing a crisis, and to divert them from the criminal justice system when treatment is needed, will continue in November under new management.
“At Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare, we especially mourn the loss of the important role that Mental Health America of Roanoke Valley has played in our community as a partner, provider and a strong advocacy voice for the needs of people with mental illness,” said Blue Ridge Executive Director Debbie Bonniwell. The agency, which serves as the region’s public mental health agency, already has staff certified in crisis intervention training.
“It is my understanding that MHARV was an early leader in bringing CIT to the Roanoke Valley, well in advance of most of the rest of Virginia,” Bonniwell said. She said she is appreciative that Harvey asked her agency to continue the training, and that she is grateful for Kelly’s early advocacy in bringing CIT to the Roanoke Valley.
The Super Hero Kids program will be absorbed by TAP’s Domestic Violence Services. Mental Health America of Roanoke Valley said TAP’s program was the most qualified and secure organization to continue helping children heal from trauma through the drama program.
Fortier said that any grants and funding remaining will transfer with the programs.
“I hope we’re kind of leaving on a note that it’s not gone. It’s not dying, but how it looked in the past is changing and it’s a loss for a lot of us. However I am glad these key programs will remain,” she said.