Michelle Wincell O'LearyTouchstone Mental Health, based in Minneapolis, provides person-centered services for people whose lives are affected by serious mental illnesses.
Touchstone Housing Innovation serves individuals 18 and older who might need assisted living or up to 24-hour services. Clients may be struggling with depression, a bipolar disorder, or similar psychotic condition. These individuals may also experience homelessness, poverty, or a psychiatric hospitalization, leading to a loss of housing.
The largest portion of those served are 55 or older, African American, U.S. born, or are refugees from African countries. The 55 and over population is the only population in the state of Minnesota that is growing in increased homelessness, says Michelle Wincell O’Leary, vice president of housing, clinic, and fitness at Touchstone.
“We serve a lot of people who have experienced trauma,” she says. “For individuals with these experiences, mental health issues and substance abuse conditions also come along.”
The organization offers services in four areas: housing search and access, mental health and supportive services, health and wellness services, and community engagement.

How It Works

Touchstone receives referrals from many social services agencies and housing partnerships. “They’re referred because of their high mental health needs, and their desire to live in the community,” says O’Leary. Touchstone then provides services to help them, including nursing services, homemaker services, living skills, even helping people get connected in the community, and with employment.

“It’s similar to what would happen in an assisted living building, except in a much more individualized way and scattered throughout the counties that we serve,” O’Leary says.

The Housing initiative

“We believe that having safe and affordable housing is necessary if you are going to work on your mental health and well-being,” says O’Leary. “And having housing directly impacts your mental health.”
Housing and support make up the foundation of what Touchstone offers.

Since 2012, its housing innovation program has been helping move residents to the community, where they hold their own lease. It helps with subsidies or other economic assistance components for housing-related needs and brings individualized services to residents living in the community.

Recently, Touchstone received two grants from the Department of Human Services in Minnesota to expand its services and housing options. “We’re spending a lot of time building a relationship with landlords and property management companies so that we can identify which housing buildings or which landlords are open to serving individuals with a mental health illness,” says O’Leary.

One of the other grants will allow Touchstone to offer different levels of care, meaning residents can receive care services a couple times per month or several days a week of intensive programming, she says. “And they can fluctuate between a low level to a high level of care without having to move from where they’re living. It lets us respond and adapt our programming around the needs of people, and they do not need to move in the process.”

Connecting People to Care

A main feature of Touchstone’s model is its care coordination, which offers convenience and expert care for residents. Services include a behavioral health home, which is similar to a medical home. The difference is the medical home services are being provided to behavioral health clients. It also offers case management, both targeted and intensive. All of those programs help connect a person to any service they need, including medical, mental, and physical health.

“Just connecting a person with the right level of care management is the first step,” says O’Leary. “Then it’s prioritizing care coordination services the person needs.”

Targeting Success

Touchstone’s ability to effect change can be seen in the program’s results. In a recent survey, residents who actively participated in the program for at least six months had a 75 percent success rate in maintaining stable housing. Ninety-two percent of residents reported their quality of life had improved as a result of receiving Touchstone’s services.

Touchstone also reviews how many residents are hospitalized and helps them maintain their housing, an effort that has been successful. According to the survey, 100 percent of residents in the program returned home within 30 days from a hospitalization.

The biggest goal, O’Leary says, is to help people find housing and then help them maintain their housing. “If you don’t have a home and someone who understands what you’re going through, it’s a pretty isolating and lonely experience,” she says.