Nonprofit aims to improve youth mental health, regardless of ability to pay
What started in 1997 as a small Oregon City clinic serving 135 clients a month is now a seven-clinic nonprofit organization throughout the Portland area seeing 2,500 people a month, primarily for the mental health needs of children.
Despite the impressive growth of Neurotherapeutic Pediatric Therapies Inc., Executive Director Karen Brelje says it's unfortunate that many parents — and even many school officials — do not know about this resource that can be free for many families.
We spoke to Brelje, a registered nurse, in the wake of a local 9-year-old's death by suicide.
Brelje said she was disappointed to learn that the Oregon City School District's "Suicide Prevention and Intervention Protocol" calls for taking children in crisis to Clackamas County's mental health clinic, nearly 10 miles outside of the city, if they don't yet have their own therapist.
She's hoping to spread the word that mental health care for youth is available from an organization, known as "Neuro" for short, in central Oregon City. And, that no one is turned away.
"Preventing something like this boy's suicide is why Neuro is here and why we became a nonprofit," Brelje said. "We try to get families in and get them supported, and we worry about payment later."
• National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255
• Lines for Life YouthLine: 877-968-8491
• Texting: Text 'Hello' to 741741.
• Chat online: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat
• Clackamas County's 24-hour crisis line: 503-655-8585
• Senior loneliness line: 503-200-1633
Clinic became nonprofit in 2007
Neurotherapeutic Pediatric Therapies offices are located at 610 High St., Oregon City, and 113 N. Elm St., Canby.
Brejle and her husband, Brent, bought Neurotherapeutic Pediatric Therapies Inc. in 1997. Ten years later, they reorganized it as a nonprofit.
The Breljes' passion was born from their own experience. They adopted three children with special needs and had no place like "Neuro" to help.
The shift away from a for-profit model was aimed at meeting Neuro's mission to serve kids and families regardless of ability to pay, she said.
"As a nonprofit, Neuro is better able to provide services for all children and families and break through the barriers to medical and mental health care," Brelje said.
"We focus strongly on the most vulnerable kids: those who are uninsured or underinsured and those whose parents cannot afford services or perhaps are too stressed to access services."
The organization offers lunchtime parent support group meetings with licensed professional counselors on Mondays from March 2 to April 6 at the Hillsboro Mental Health Offices, 5291 N.E. Elam Young Parkway, Suite 160.
The cost for the six-week sessions is $180, but the nonprofit organization is committed to scholarships for families who need the service and cannot afford it.
Neuro has a scholarship program that allows clients to be in therapy for as long as they need, even after their insurance coverage runs out.
Brelje said her staff will go to all measures to ensure people can access services. In addition to offering scholarships to families that can't pay for mental health care, Neuro accepts families on the Oregon Health Plan, a common state-funded insurer of low-income families. They also accept private insurance and direct payment.
Brelje said Neuro provides about $250,000 in free care annually to uninsured and underinsured families and is one of the few mental health providers in the state that takes all forms of the Oregon Health Plan, which covers about half of Neuro's patients. The nonprofit's $4 million annual budget includes grants from the Murdock Charitable Trust and other charitable contributions.
Phillesha Bradford, the mother of 9-year-old Elyejah Dean Hauff who took his own life on Dec. 10, said her family is covered by OHP and was trying to find a therapist for Elyejah after he had expressed suicidal thoughts.
Brelje said it can be hard for parents to find mental health care for their kids, particularly when they feel a sense of urgency.
"I've often seen families experiencing a child's mental health crisis get frustrated because they feel like everywhere they turn there's a barrier, but what we try to do is break down the barriers," she said. "Neuro has high-quality therapists right here in Oregon City where people need them, and all over the Portland area. There's no reason for families in OC to have to go outside of their city for help."
With the opening of a new clinic in Canby last year, Neuro has offices in Oregon City as well as Northeast Portland, Wilsonville, Hillsboro, McMinnville and Medford.
"Part of our strategic plan to reduce barriers to care is to locate our clinics in areas of unmet need," Brelje said.
Mental health has been a particularly important topic in Canby since three teens took their lives in 2018. That was the same year Gladstone resident Kora Vanek, 19, killed herself and inspired loved ones to launch a new nonprofit called the Mikenna Vanek Project to raise awareness about depression and prevent suicides.
Neurotherapeutic Pediatric Therapies Inc. fundraisers to support free mental health care:
• All day Feb. 6, Scholarships 4kids Dine-out fundraiser at Deno's Pizzeria, 4475 Lakeview Blvd., Lake Oswego
• 6-10 p.m. Oct. 3, Fall Gala at Willamette Valley Country Club, 900 Country Club Place, Canby, will include dinner, drinks, music, silent/live auction, raffle
More: Call 503-372-5147 or visit nt4kids.org
Brelje has a motto for parents helping their children navigate the waves of feelings that come with adolescence.
"Know your kid, and if you get stuck, get help," she said.
Stephanie Caballero, a bilingual family therapist at Nuero, said risk factors for suicide look different in different children, which is why parents are key in determining what's normal for each child. Caballero sees common warning signs in a child's defiance of parents and teachers, especially when combined with violence or angry outbursts, negative self-talk and withdrawal from friends.
"In middle school, kids not eating and reliance on social media become more common additional risk factors for suicidal thoughts," Caballero said.
Kids often communicate their sadness to their friends, so parents don't necessarily know what's going on. But Caballero said parents often can guess on an intuitive level when something is not quite right with their kid's mental health.
"Be curious about your kids and you'll find out about the changes that are happening over the years," she said. "From an early age, ask them about things that matter to them, their friends and their interests. Asking them why their classes are boring validates their experience in struggling through homework, for example."
Brelje and Caballero are two of many professionals working to destigmatize concerns about children's mental health so parents feel free to talk with their children about their thoughts and enlist a therapist if needed.
They counsel frank discussions with children about death in an effort to prevent suicide.
"If a child says that they're wanting to hurt themselves, that doesn't necessarily mean they're suicidal," Caballero said. "Parents can respond to a child's talk of using a potential method of suicide in a sensitive but direct way, saying something like: If you do that, you're not just going to get hurt or scratched, but this could cause you to die and never be able to see your parents or friends ever again, and we love you and would never want that to happen to you."
Editor, Clackamas Review/Oregon City News
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