‘It matters:’ Sioux Falls’ Operation Hope announces partnerships with health care orgs
Operation Hope’s new partnerships with Avera, Falls Community Health, the Helpline Center, the Link and Sanford are expected to break down more barriers for more people in need of mental health care.
SIOUX FALLS — A Sioux Falls initiative focused on breaking barriers to mental health care announced details on new partnerships with both public and private health care providers in the city.
Sioux Falls City Council member Marshall Selberg took the Wednesday, April 19, One Sioux Falls briefing to announce Operation Hope’s new partnerships with Avera, Falls Community Health, the Helpline Center, the Link and Sanford.
First funded by a $500,000 grant from the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundations in 2021, Operation Hope serves as a fund where those facing barriers to accessing mental health care can receive financial assistance, be it in the form of a ride, co-pay assistance, paying for medication or something else.
“It seems like a lot of people are in need of help to put it simply, and it’s all social and economic classes that you just see a lot of people kind of white-knuckling it through life,” Selberg said. “The goal for this program was always to have a long-lasting, long-reaching program that really moves the needle, and it’s starting to really gain momentum.”
Selberg said that since the program first launched, partnerships have been formed with various community entities that have helped raise awareness and usage of Operation Hope funds.
Any Sioux Falls resident needing assistance from Operation Hope is eligible for up to $500 per year, and $200,000 of the initial half-a-million has already been spent, which Selberg said is a good thing.
“The idea behind this was to get this out to as many people as possible through as many avenues as possible,” he said. “I think the plan for this money is to see how fast we can spend it because that means people who need it are using it.”
The Helpline Center fields phone calls from individuals in need across South Dakota. In a January “soft launch,” the organization began connecting eligible residents of Sioux Falls to Operation Hope.
“Every day, we have people who call us who are struggling with issues like depression, anxiety, grief and loss, or whatever the case may be, and oftentimes when my staff are doing assessments over the phone, we determine that the best option for them is connection to an outpatient mental health provider here in our community,” said CEO Janet Kittams. “When we talk with callers about that, oftentimes they bring up barriers on why they can't do that, and many of those are financial barriers because they can't afford to see a mental health provider.”
Kittams said that’s when Operation Hope is mentioned.
“It is an immense relief that my staff are able to offer Operation Hope to those folks that are from the community of Sioux Falls as a resource,” Kittams said. “When we offer that resource to people, the sense of relief and gratitude that we hear over the phone is absolutely amazing, because they honestly felt like they weren’t going to be able to receive any type of support or help, so it has made a tremendous difference already.”
Serving as the city's liaison with the Link, Alicia Collura has spent the past year investigating how to connect more Sioux Falls residents to more care options, including Avera and Sanford. A provider referral system has finally been implemented to make that possible.
“How it works is any Sioux Falls resident can call 988 and, as long as they're not in an immediate crisis, if they have a behavioral health, mental health or substance use issue along with a financial need, Operation Hope funding is available for help with that first visit,” Collura explained. “Based on screening processes, the Helpline Center may refer the resident to Sanford, Avera, the Link or Falls Community Health for the initial assessment.”
Representatives from both Avera and Sanford agreed that this referral system will help residents get access to whatever care they need, wherever they need it.
“Operation Hope is changing the trajectory of lives forever,” said Thomas Otten of Avera Behavioral Health. “It matters when we break down stigma … and it matters when our community breaks down barriers for all who struggle with mental health and addiction.”
The National Alliance on Mental Health estimates that 43.8 million Americans suffer from mental health issues each year. City officials say Operation Hope has already assisted more than 160 people, with a larger reach expected as the program grows.
Anyone struggling with mental health is encouraged to call the Helpline Center at 988 or reach out to the Link at 605-275-1000.
The Sioux Falls Area Community Fund is accepting donations to be put toward future grants to Operation Hope.