Program helps Provincetown residents navigate social service network

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Officials in Provincetown say they’re seeing success with their Community Resource Navigator Program, which provides a point person to support and assist members of the community with navigating available social service agencies.
 
“We were having behavioral health problems, [with] drugs, alcohol and mental health, and interventions were happening too late,” said Selectman Tom Donegan. “Even people seeking help were having trouble finding their way into the services network.”
 
Faced with a social problem that was falling on the Police Department to handle, officials saw a need to support members of the community dealing with issues that cut across departments and agencies. The town put out a request for proposals to find a solution. Outer Cape Health Services responded with the Navigator concept.
 
Funding for the program was secured in the town’s operating budget during Town Meeting and is administered as a grant through the Provincetown Health Department. Funding was initially granted for six months, then a full year, but was recently extended to two years.
 
“This was an example of some progressive thinking by local government,” said Andy Lowe, director of program resources management for Outer Cape Health Services.
 
Navigator L. Forest Malatesta has office space in the Provincetown Public Library where she holds regular hours. She said she also visits people at their homes when appropriate. People can call, email or come in to see her.
 
Malatesta said the issues clients are facing typically involve substance abuse (more than 60 percent), mental health (more than 80 percent) and housing (more than 70 percent), but she also sees elderly residents facing isolation, and those dealing with unemployment.
 
“The community in the summertime is different than in the winter,” and the issues are different depending on the time of year, said Marta “Dikke” Hansen, director of behavioral health for Outer Cape Health Services. She said Malatesta is known as the “social worker on wheels.”
 
People often come to the navigator because they lack a support system to help them with issues they are facing, Malatesta said. The program is currently engaged or in contact with 58 agencies.
 
“Once people hear there is someone to go to, they are relieved,” Malatesta said. “My role is to facilitate connections” between agencies and the people who need them.
 
“We’re lucky to have an enormous amount of nonprofits and strong agencies in the area,” she said.
 
Lowe acknowledged that funding is a challenge for most communities, but a navigator program “can improve outcomes and decrease costs for the entire health care system.”
 
Selectman Donegan said the reception by residents and town officials “has been terrific.”
 
“People are using the program and reaching out on behalf of others,” he said, “and it’s been helpful to the Police Department, lightening their load and giving them a place to send [people in need].”
 
The nearby communities of Wellfleet, Truro and Eastham are now looking into developing a shared navigator program, Donegan said.