The Mental Health Association of Greater Lowell (MHA) was organized in 1953 as a private non-profit corporation to serve the people of Lowell and neighboring communities. Then as now, MHA was a part of the community and their stories are intertwined.
The 1950s were difficult times for the city of Lowell. The 1950 federal census calculated the population of Lowell at 97,000, down from over 112,000 earlier in the century. The textile industry, which employed 17,000 people in 1900, was only employing 8,000 people by 1936, and while World War II provided a temporary respite for workers, following the war the decline of the textile industry worsened. In spite of these losses, the city retained political clout, as evidenced by the major political figures who made appearance in the city during this time. From October of 1951 through September of 1956, Lowell was visited by President Harry Truman, candidate and future President Dwight Eisenhower, Vice President and future President Richard Nixon, and Congressman and future President John F. Kennedy. Sadly, none of this political attention was enough to stop the closing of the Boot Mills in 1956 or the Merrimack Company in 1958 after 130 years in business. By the time of the 1960 census, Lowell’s population had dropped further to 92,000.
For individuals with mental illness and mental retardation, the 1950’s were years that were rooted in the past, but signaled the future. The number of hospitalized mentally ill people peaked in 1955 at 560,000, just as the first class of anti-psychotic drugs used to treat psychosis was introduced. Studies at the time showed that 70% of patients with schizophrenia improved on these drugs. By the mid 1960’s, many people with mental illness were released from institutions, and some were able to live more independently because of the new medications available. Sadly, many others became homeless due to inadequate housing and follow-up care in the community.
For individuals with developmental disabilities, then known as mental retardation, the 1950’s was also a time when institutional placements peaked along with stigmatization and intolerance. The conditions at public institutions were appalling. In spite of that, many parents were advised to institutionalize their children by their family doctor, only to be faced with long waiting lists. Special classes in local schools, where they existed, were ill-conceived, poorly taught, and sharply restrictive. Private schools were only for the wealthy.
At that point in our history, the Mental Health Association opened its doors with a mission that endures today:
- The promotion of mental health.
- The prevention of mental illness.
- The improved care and treatment of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.
Then and now, the MHA exists to serve the most vulnerable members of our community. MHA’s services have changed over the years to keep pace with the evolving needs of the Greater Lowell community and with our increasing understanding of the needs of individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities.
Today, we achieve our goals through a wide range of services including outpatient mental health and substance abuse counseling, residential supports, education, advocacy, and information and referral. Our staff and clients can be found in numerous locations throughout the greater Lowell area.
In 2009, when the Department of Mental Health introduced a new residential service model called Community Based Flexible Support Services, MHA developed a program that has since served more than 388 people with severe and chronic mental illness. Our current caseload of 202 individuals lives throughout the greater Lowell community in various housing settings.
Our clients with developmental disabilities also live throughout the community in various housing options suited to their needs and preferences. As with our mental health services, these services have evolved with greater understanding, and are now offered through flexible supports that are tailored to the needs of each individual. We’re proud that the individuals we serve have numerous opportunities to engage in work, recreational, and social activities across the region.
The hub of our outpatient services is located at 99 Church Street in Lowell, which is conveniently located in downtown Lowell, on major bus routes and with convenient parking. However, our outpatient clinicians can be found serving the community in scattered sites throughout the area. We work in partnership with numerous schools, with Catholic Charities at Brigid’s Crossing, with numerous employers offing Employee Assistance, with the Family Resource Center in downtown Lowell, and with the United Teen Equality Center (UTEC).
No stone is left unturned when it comes to supporting our clients. Our funding is derived by multiple sources including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through its Departments of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Children and Families. We collect third party reimbursements through Medicaid, Medicare, and numerous private insurances. We also provide services to our clients with assistance through Federal Housing and Urban Development, Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, the City of Lowell, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, and corporate, foundation and individual contributions.
Just as the founders of MHA looked to serve the emerging needs of our community, so does MHA today look to find new ways to serve the needs of the greater Lowell community.
These are our major projects currently in the works:
Acquired Brain Injury Program: Acquired Brain Injury refers to injury that occurs after birth as a result of stroke, loss of oxygen to the brain, or by trauma caused by gunshot wound, motor vehicle crash, assault, or fall with injury to the head. MHA is currently working with the Department of Developmental Disabilities to open a house to serve individuals with the needs resulting from these types of injuries.
Adult Foster/Family Care: This program provides daily assistance with personal care and case management oversight for seniors and persons with disabilities. This program model features interdisciplinary care teams, which include the participant, the caregiver, a registered nurse and a case manager, all working together to develop and deliver a plan of care that meets the participants’ medical, physical, emotional, social and other needs. The Adult Foster Care program is founded on the fundamental belief that people have a right to live in their own home, in a community setting, and as such is a natural fit for MHA. We will be working to offer these services during the coming year.
CBFS expansion: These many years later, MHA continues its work to bring people back to the community from institutional care. We are currently renovating a house that will be home to six individuals whose last address was Tewksbury State Hospital.
Mental health clinic community integration and specialization: Our service to individuals in the community through our clinic is a critical component of mission, and we are in a continual process of expansion and enhancement. Our work will continue at sites throughout the community and in partnership with other community agencies serving the health and educational needs of greater Lowell. In response to the needs we encounter, our staff is developing specialties in the areas of domestic violence high risk assessment, emotional freedom technique, hoarding, and mindfulness and developing expertise in the integration of behavioral health with primary care.
DD Housing Improvement: We are in the process of evaluating our existing housing options and making plans for either renovation or purchase of new properties in order to provide our clients with modern housing that provides the necessary functionality to serve their changing needs.
Staff Development: Our staff is our greatest asset. We have added salaried positions to our clinic in order to attract and retain clinicians who share our passion for the Lowell community. We have increased wages in our community programs. Finally, we have enrolled in the Providers’ Council eAcademy for online training, which will provide 600 courses in all the broad areas required for service delivery, certification, and licensing. This training will be available to all staff in the agency.
21st century technology for patient care: In order to provide state-of-the-art care that is integrated with the primary health care system, we are implementing an agency-wide electronic health record system. All staff will use this system to assist them in providing integrated care with clinical support functions, patient information and exchange capabilities, and third-party billing capacity.