Springfield—Behavioral Health Network, Inc. (BHN) has announced that it will receive a Digital Equity Partnership Grant as part of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity (Alliance), a statewide network of mental health and disability organizations.
The total grant of $4.4 million statewide to Vinfen, on behalf of the Alliance, was announced by leaders from the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Economic Development and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, with the goal of increasing digital inclusion among low-income people with physical, intellectual/developmental disabilities and people with serious mental health conditions.
The eight organizations that comprise the Alliance are: Advocates, Behavioral Health Network, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Department of Psychiatry, Boston Center for Independent Living, Clinical Support Options, Open Sky, Riverside Community Care, and Vinfen.
The Alliance is one of three entities to receive a first-round Digital Equity Partnership grant from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, a division of Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech). This Digital Equity Partnership grant will provide funding to the eight organizations within the Alliance to deploy 15 regionally-based Technology Navigators to help people obtain digital devices, develop digital skills, and enroll in low-cost broadband programs. The Technology Navigators will work one-on-one with people with disabilities in homes and in service settings. Through this grant, Alliance organizations will provide services in 230 cities and towns in Massachusetts (11 counties). BHN will hire a Technology Navigator to provide services to clients in its service area.
According to Michelle Michaelian, Senior Vice President at BHN, “We are excited to be a part of this meaningful initiative. So many of the people we and other providers serve have been disconnected from the world and from vital resources since they lack even basic digital access. This is an issue of equity and this grant will help BHN connect those we serve with the digital connections they need and deserve.”
“On behalf of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity, we are thrilled to be awarded one of the first round Digital Equity grants,” said Kim Shellenberger, Vinfen’s Chief Strategy Officer. “In today’s world, technology access and digital skills are no longer a luxury and this grant will enable our organizations to provide crucial support services to reduce the digital divide among people with disabilities and people with mental health challenges.”
People with disabilities are nearly 20% less likely to own a computer or smartphone and they are three times more likely to say that they never go online (Pew 2021). The barriers to technology access and digital literacy include lack of knowledge and lack of confidence in how to utilize the technology, and the prohibitive costs of purchasing and maintaining devices. When given the opportunity, people with disabilities embrace all that technology has to offer. Technology can transform lives in the following ways: 1) improve access to medical and behavioral health care through tele-health (people who can’t tele-health may experience longer waits and less access); 2) open new employment opportunities; 3) improve independence and executive function by using reminders and calendar app to keep appointments, maintain a clean house and good personal hygiene; 4) enhance communication using text to speech and speech to text apps; 5) support mental health recovery by using specific symptom management and relaxation apps.
About The Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity: The eight Alliance organizations provide a wide range of services including outpatient mental health, skill development and employment programs, group homes, substance use treatment, community support teams, homeless programs, transitional housing and drop-in centers. The Alliance views digital inclusion services as an essential part of our organizations’ missions to promote clients’ recovery, resiliency, skill development and self-determination. The Alliance believes every person should have the technology and skills needed for full participation in our society.
BHN has been providing behavioral health services to children and families in Western Massachusetts since 1938. The agency provides community-based services that include innovative, integrated whole-health models as well as traditional clinical and outpatient and therapeutic services, day treatment, addiction services, crisis intervention, and residential supports.