Fill in the Gap

Connecting to care for individuals with special needs.

It is ironic that an organization providing vital, life-changing communications support to some of the most underserved members of rural Northern California communities remains itself virtually unknown to many outside of the populations it serves.

Connecting to Care provides supportive services for individuals with special needs, including mental and behavioral health needs, through its integrated telepsychiatry, assistive technology and tele-behavioral healthcare delivery systems. As the provider of gap essential healthcare program services for the clients of two California Department of Developmental Services Regional Centers – Far Northern in Redding and Redwood Coast in Ukiah – its reach extends across 14 counties.

Working with the California Department of Education, the organization also helps all schools in the region by conducting student assessments and helping with assistive communication technology acquisition. After a device arrives, Connecting to Care staff program it and train the user how to operate it.

This customized approach has proven more successful than the previous practice of a school ordering off-the-shelf equipment from a catalog before accurate assessment of a student’s needs. An augmented speech communication device helps an individual with a speech or language impairment “voice” their thoughts and needs to others.

“Increasing communication skill and accessibility to environment (school, work, community) often decreases the need for medication,” says Suzi Coleman, executive director and co-founder of Connecting to Care. “Individuals are no longer dependent but can live more independently.”

The individuals Connecting to Care has helped with its integrated assistive technology program go beyond the classroom, spanning not only an age range (from 2 to 80 years), but also a causative spectrum. “Many people think of developmental disability when they think of assistive technology,” Coleman says. “We also see individuals who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury who lose their ability to communicate. We can help them, as well.”

Many of these clients are private-pay individuals seeking assessments and devices who have been referred by a physical therapist. (As a nonprofit, the organization cannot accept insurance payments.) Regardless of age or reason for the device, Coleman says the result is the same: the ability to communicate changes and empowers lives.

At the heart of Connecting to Care’s operation is its telehealth service center, founded 12 years ago and located in Redding. “Today telehealth, especially with the onset of COVID, is in all of our lives,” says Coleman, “but when we broke into this industry we were pioneers and had to beg doctors to use this modality.” Coleman’s persistence and persuasion paid off. She has developed long-standing partnerships with consulting psychiatrists at the University of Southern California, Cedars-Sinai and Los Angeles Telepsychiatry. Connecting to Care facilitates specialty telepsychiatry services with these partners using HIPAA-compliant advanced camera and video technology to create a virtual clinic environment,
where patient, family, physician specialists and other staff meet to collaborate on whole person care. “We’re kind of known as the agency that takes the more complex cases,” Coleman says. “Maybe someone is autistic and has a seizure disorder or has multiple sclerosis and also depression. There are more people who need specialized services than providers to deliver them, particularly in rural areas. Our local doctors have learned a lot from collaborating with our consulting specialists.” •

Connecting to Care •

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