Whenever access to health services is discussed, the conventional solutions proposed tend to center on ideas of costs and logistics; how to get more patients to clinicians. For the Alameda County Network of Mental Health Clients (a.k.a. The Network), however, access is not only about how you get there, but how you’re seen once you arrive. With that understanding, the Network is determined to combine their informed peer-led assistance with state-of-the-art, non-profit business practices enhanced through a technical assistance partnership with Felton Institute. 

ACNMHC "The Network" Featured Photo

For The Network’s Executive Director, Katrina Killian, access begins with acceptance. “I know what it’s like to feel that your needs are not being met intentionally,” she says. “So, we work very hard to make sure that we not only meet people where they are, we accept them where they are and work to get them to where they want to be.”  

Since its founding in 1988, The Network continues to be a “100 percent consumer-operated” organization, entirely staffed by people from within the communities they serve. It’s an approach Killian takes seriously; applying it to one of the biggest challenges in accessing the system as a whole: ensuring services are being delivered by people who not only look like their clients, but also have similar experiences. 

Partnering with Felton Institute has helped The Network to maintain this goal and realize improved employee training practices using programs like Felton’s New Employee Orientation, a two-day instructional designed to introduce employees of nonprofit agencies to the rules, requirements, and laws of the counties where they operate. 

“You work, you volunteer, you work up. But there were things we needed to work out in between,” Killian says. “Felton has been amazing with helping us build up our infrastructure around human resources, hiring practices, training, and board development.” 

For clients, knowing how they will be treated when they present themselves for engagement is paramount. Executive Director Killian understands the value of having a peer lens. Modifying hiring practices to maintain a largely diverse workforce becomes crucial when serving communities of color who may have had a ‘tough’ time in the system. “I may not know your story, but I can relate in some ways to how you may be impacted,” she says. “So I can advocate in a different way, or I can listen in a different way. Felton has really helped us upgrade what we do.” 

Honoring the rights of people with mental health challenges to partner in their own recoveries and to determine their paths to recovery, to appropriate care – are all values at the core of The Network. These are values that overlap directly with The Felton Way, being welcoming, culturally relevant, and recovery-oriented.  

Partnering to further build out The Network’s infrastructure is designed to advance the field in this way. What matters to both organizations are the people; the people within their communities, within these organizations and out, the people they haven’t met yet, but are hoping they will. According to ED Katrina Killian, it’s about creating a space and a method for people to not just help, but “help better.” 

For more information about The Network, please visit acnetmhc.org

by J. Elliott Mendez

About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.

Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult, and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties. Felton’s social services and programs utilize the latest scientific research, combining cultural sensitivity, deep respect for client and staff, and a commitment to social justice.

Felton is the oldest non-sectarian and nonprofit social services provider in the City and County of San Francisco. For over a century, Felton Institute has been at the forefront of social service innovation, pioneering new approaches to meet underserved populations’ emerging needs. At the heart of our work is the belief that individuals and families in crisis must have access to services and resources to help them build on their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. www.felton.org