Steps in the Right Direction Moscow Ballet Pitches In To Help Promote Children’s Mental Health Programs

Robert Simpson says the December performances of the Great Russian Nutcracker by the Moscow Ballet will do more than raise money for children’s mental health services. They will also raise awareness of a problem that often gets swept under the rug — and of the need to properly fund programs to address mental health concerns.
“The money we raise is important, but it’s not a sizeable amount,” said Simpson, COO of Providence Behavioral Hospital. “What’s more important, I believe, is raising awareness of children’s mental health and reducing many of the stigmas attached to it; only 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the kids who need care actually get it, which is an incredible statistic when you think about it.”

The two performances are set for Dec. 6, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the UMass Fine Arts Center in Amherst, part of a 75-city tour by the Moscow Ballet. These will be the only benefit performances on that junket, however, and they are Moscow Ballet producer Akiva Talmi’s way of saying ‘thank you’ for the help and guidance his son has been given at Providence.

“This is a population that is greatly underserved … there is a real crisis in mental health care for children,” said Talmi. “This hospital has had some great success stories over the years; our company wants to help it produce more of them.”

The Healthcare News looks this month at how the unique partnership between Providence and the Moscow Ballet began, and how the relationship constitutes a major step forward in the fight against mental illness in children.

Choreographing a Classic

Simpson told The Healthcare News that the partnership began roughly a year ago, when Talmi knocked on his door and announced that he had a gift for the hospital.

“He said he had a strong interest in children’s mental health, and he also knew that there was a crisis in funding for those programs,” said Simpson. “He said he wanted to give the gift of the Moscow ballet to help make sure that kids with emotional problems have a place to go.”

Simpson, who has traveled behind the old Iron Curtain and has studied Russian extensively, said this interest helped forge a bond with Talmi. But the real link was children’s mental health and the desire to raise awareness about that topic.

Last year’s benefit performance raised about $30,000, which was used primarily for staff training programs — an area hard hit by cutbacks in funding for mental health programs — and soon after it was over, Simpson and Talmi decided to forge a long-term partnership. This year, organizers have responded to strong demand by scheduling two shows, which should provide a meaningful donation to the hospital.

And the financial contribution should not be overlooked, because behavioral health care providers are being squeezed by public and private payers, and many are being squeezed out of business.

“In children’s mental health services, there is not enough money given by the state to care for these kids,” Simpson said. “The state underpays 25{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} for every bed day, so if it wasn’t for the Sisters of Providence, we’d have a hard time keeping this service going.”

Encouraged by the success of the ballet in directing attention and funding to behavioral health issues, Simpson is moving forward with plans to create a foundation for children’s mental health services.

“I’m going to be asking the public to join the team and raise money to support these services,” he said. “That’s something that’s come out of this benefit by the ballet; when you have an event that allows you to go out to the public in such a meaningful way, that gives you a building block for the foundation.”

He acknowledged that it will take several years to create a foundation large enough to provide meaningful contributions to area providers, but said that it’s important to get started because the problem is one that will be with the region for years to come.

Talmi concurred, and told The Healthcare News that the ballet has stepped forward to help Providence not only by donating proceeds, but by putting children’s mental health in the spotlight — in both a literal and figurative sense.

At last year’s performance, Talmi joined Simpson on stage prior to the performance and talked with the audience about children’s mental health, the stigmas that prevent many people from receiving care, and the funding crisis that has forced many facilities out of the business of providing behavioral health services.

“He talked about how stigmas keep families from bringing their children in for care, and how important it is for people to talk about it,” Simpson said of Talmi.

“He used the analogy of diabetes; if a child had diabetes, the parents would be quickly bringing them in for care — but when young people have mental health problems, they either can’t get to care, can’t find access to care, or there aren’t enough providers.”

Talmi said he doesn’t know yet what he will be saying to the audience this year, but he expects to keep hammering away at the importance of access, while stressing the importance of mental health facilities at a time when more young people are having problems with stress and have fewer places to turn to for help.

“The mysteries of the mind remain unresolved, and hospitals like Providence are doing what they can to help children, but the need is growing,” he said. “Young men in this country face a number of challenges, and there is a great deal of depression, more than in previous years.

“This is a group that is underserved, and we need to help people care for the children,” he continued. “Kids today are being pushed to the margins, and if they don’t receive care when they need it, there will only be more trouble later.”

Positive Steps

Simpson told The Healthcare News that proceeds from the ballet’s performances are certainly not going to solve the hospital’s funding woes. But they will contribute in a large way to an awareness campaign that will hopefully bring some meaningful reform to the current funding problem.

“Every penny and dollar we can raise for mental health is important these days, but what we raise through the ballet is not a large amount given the sizeable amount of the need,” he said. “But we are educating people and we’re reducing stigmas.”

And in that respect, the ballet is giving a truly valuable holiday gift.