Beacon Community Connections, a local nonprofit, has reached its two-year milestone. “This year, we have themed our birthday around ‘Building Community’ because our focus is on making connections to build community” said Dr. Holly Howat, Executive Director for Beacon. Beacon provides non-clinical case management and community education to vulnerable populations. “Basically, we connect the unconnected,” said Howat.
Beacon receives referrals from healthcare organizations and criminal justice agencies and then works to establish a bond with each client. After learning about their individual needs, Beacon’s Navigators connect the client to the right resource. Follow-up phone calls ensure that the resource is working and that no additional needs have arisen.
An example of what Beacon does can be found with Anne (name changed for privacy), a client who was released from the hospital after foot surgery. She was living alone and had no reliable means of transportation while she was unable to drive. Beacon was able to arrange rides to doctor visits and other essential appointments. During one call, the Navigator noticed that Anne seemed depressed. After some gentle probing questions, Anne broke down and admitted she was feeling hopeless and had thought about ending her life. Beacon’s Navigator was able to comfort Anne in the moment and connect her to a mental health counselor.
Over the past two years, Beacon has collected over 2,000 stories like that. “Everyone experiences difficulty in their lives at one point,” said Dylan Norris, Navigation Coordinator, “it is so rewarding for me to meet people where they are and guide them to a better place.” Beacon also has the data to provide its effectiveness. They connect 96% of their clients to at least one resource and two-thirds of them are connected to three or more resources. Further, they able to reduce hospital readmissions for their clients by 70%. The majority of clients report increased feelings of health, well-being, and stability when their case is closed.
During the COVID19 pandemic, Beacon opened its phone lines to assist anyone in the community with benefit enrollment assistance – things like Medicaid, SNAP and unemployment. “We decided that we have the skills to help people and should help anyone who needed it.” said Herbert Druilhet, Chair of Beacon’s Board of Directors and Vice-President for Ambulatory Clinical Transformation at Lafayette General Health. Beacon made this decision without knowing if additional funding would be available to continue to support this work. Over the past four months, it has received over 350 referrals and has successfully assisted 271 and counting.
“For our birthday, we have launched a grassroots fundraiser to be able to continue this service. As the pandemic continues to affect so many lives here, we feel a sense of obligation to help others.” said Howat. Those interested in learning more about Beacon and donating can find more information at their website, beaconconnections.org or on social media.
While relatively new as a nonprofit, Beacon’s roots started much earlier. Dr. Howat established the Justice and Health Collaborative while working as the Executive Director of the Lafayette Parish Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee. At that point, the community was interested in reducing unnecessary incarceration of individuals with mental illness and increasing access to community treatment. The Justice and Health Collaborative tried some piecemeal solutions, but soon realized that a holistic and integrated approach was needed. Through a 2017 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, a partnership between the Justice and Health Collaborative, Lafayette General Health and 232-HELP piloted the Beacon Project. With its success, Beacon Community Connections was established on July 12, 2018 with a mission to create connections for a thriving community.