Mercy Community Healthcare held its annual fall dinner and fundraiser recently at St. Philip Catholic Church in Franklin.
The dinner raises money to support Mercy’s mental health services, including counseling and psychiatry. These funds allow the nonprofit to serve the thousands of uninsured and underinsured people in the community.
State Representative Sam Whitson served as the keynote speaker. Whitson, a veteran, discussed the importance of accessing mental health care.
“Our first experience with Mercy was with our granddaughter who had congestive heart failure as an infant,” said Sarah Leah Whitson. “Mercy Community Healthcare and the chronic care team have taken such wonderful care of her and our entire family.
“We are very grateful for the mercy. Our granddaughter is now a healthy 12-year-old girl with a bright future.”
Whitson also spoke about other mental health services Mercy provides and noted that more than half of Mercy’s patients are dealing with a mental or behavioral health issue.
He said, “I truly believe that mental health counselors and school nurses are just as important as school resource officers in ensuring a safe and secure learning environment for our schools.”
Whitson has also spoken about increasing awareness of mental health and challenges since joining the General Assembly in 2016.
“When I first took office, I just wanted to focus on building good roads and great schools,” he said. “But I’ve developed relationships with mental health advocates and sponsored suicide prevention legislation.”
Whitson sponsored the Tullis Act in 2017, which aims to reduce the number of suicides by equipping state-licensed mental health professionals to better address the problem. Suicide deaths outnumber homicide deaths in Tennessee by more than 2 to 1; It is the second killer of youth ages 10-14 and adults ages 25-34.
Stephen Neely, Mercy’s director of behavioral health, thanked the first responders present, eliciting a standing ovation for those responding from the audience. Neely went on to share his work with EMDR. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy as a mental health treatment. This method involves moving your eyes in a specific way while processing the painful memories. The goal of EMDR is to help people heal from trauma or other traumatic life experiences. Two of Mercy’s patients, Marleigh and Jack, shared their experiences with the crowd.
While the fall dinner fundraiser goes to aid mental health services, Mercy Community Healthcare is raising money for its efforts to build a new facility. The current phase of the new building project requires that Mercy raise $4 million before the end of 2022. With the help of generous backers, it has managed to raise 53% of its goal, with a goal of an additional $1.9 million by the end of the year.
“It is a 33,000-square-foot integrated health facility that will provide primary care and mental health work that will consolidate work into one great location,” said Steering Committee member Dick Gigi. Gygi said Mercy will launch a campaign in January to start fundraising for the new building.