Patient Perspective: Advocating for a Family Through a Mental Health Crisis

Dawn Miller first met her care coordinator in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital inpatient psychiatric unit. Dawn’s daughter had been admitted for suicidal ideation, and Dawn felt shame that she had not fully realized her child’s suffering. She worried about how she could possibly care for the three other children at home while a fourth was in crisis.

“All of this going on, I am trying to keep my daughter from dying, and now I have one more person to talk to,” Dawn says of that meeting with the coordinator. “But he was calm and caring. I needed it. I started to understand there was a system in place that could help me and my family.”

Dawn and her daughter Mackenzie Starkloff, now 18, became fully embedded in that system for nearly two years. On the behavioral health side, Mackenzie was a patient in the hospital, then participated in an intensive outpatient program, and then had ongoing therapy.

And on the care coordination side, a care coordinator from Partners For Kids became a trusted partner to Dawn, in ways that she wouldn’t always have expected. At one point after Mackenzie’s have expected. At one point after Mackenzie’s hospitalization, it became clear that one of her providers was not meshing well with the family. Dawn couldn’t figure out how to proceed.

“I didn’t know if I was stuck,” Dawn said. “I didn’t want to jeopardize Mackenzie’s health just because we weren’t getting along. I wanted to be as supportive as I could be. I knew I could ask our care coordinator. I knew that even though he was part of this system, he was on our side, and he was not going to make me feel bad for asking.”

He intervened and helped Dawn and Mackenzie transition to someone who fits with them better. Dawn can name any number of other ways their care coordinator intervened for her and her family: connecting them with utility bill payment resources; finding exactly the right person to speak to about reinstating the family’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits; and introducing them to outside peer counseling when another family member began to struggle.

“Two years ago, we had this intense crisis with Mackenzie. Life or death,” says Dawn. “Now we’re more stable, and one of the big reasons why is our care coordinator.”

This feature originally appeared in the Partners For Kids Progress Report.

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