Bridges Healthcare in Milford receives grants to better serve community

MILFORD — Capital fundraising is among the most challenging fundraising for a nonprofit, which is why the recent $1.1 million federal grant comes at a perfect time, said Allison Csonka with Bridges Healthcare, Inc.

The federal grant will be used for infrastructure upgrades, mainly for the HVAC system and to help replace the roof. It will also be used to upgrade the agency's telecommunications and the IT security and network infrastructure. The HVAC system and IT work will start around late spring or early fall, said Bridges Healthcare Inc. CEO and President Jennifer Fiorillo.

"It adds to the safety of our environment," she said. "The HVAC system is about air filtration and temperature control for us. It allows us to stay a viable organization. The HVAC system we have right now has made it difficult to provide services if we are disrupted by constant breaking down and issues. The upgraded HVAC system will allow us to provide services in a safe and comfortable environment." 

Bridges Healthcare serves more than 2,300 people in Milford, Orange, West Haven and the surrounding communities. Its prevention efforts serve more than 5,000 with Milford Prevention Council, West Haven Prevention Council, and Bethany, Orange, Woodbridge, Drug and Alcohol Action Committee. Even though the grant funding is for upgrades to the Bridges' building, Fiorillo said the upgrades are essential to better help the community.

Fiorillo said they can provide all their services, but if the HVAC system got to a point where it was malfunctioning and couldn't maintain a specific temperature during the winter, they couldn't keep their doors open.

"When it does break down, it can be costly, even if insurance covers it, there are deductibles and that just takes away from money that could be directed to the mission and the staff we have," said Allison Csonka, Bridges Healthcare's director of fund development and communications.

Modernizing IT and telecommunications will also help Bridges Healthcare provide better services, but most importantly, it will help keep the agency's clients' records secure and confidential.

"We have to adhere to HIPPA and protect the health information of our clients, so cybersecurity is critical," said Fiorillo. "Improving our telecommunications is timely because we provide some of our services using telehealth, so improving our telecommunications will ensure we can provide the best platform and use of telehealth services."

Many times nonprofits might take a little longer to focus on infrastructure needs because the mission comes first, Csonka said.

"So it's great that these funds are focused specifically for those infrastructure upgrades and constructive, so the rest of our funding can continue to go to all of our programs," she said. 

The federal money comes from congressionally directed spending funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, Fiorillo said.

"We can't utilize our program or service funds for capital improvements like these," said Fiorillo. "Such capital improvements like these have to come from a source, either a reserve we have in the agency, or we raise money separately for it, or it has to come from funds like this. Otherwise, we would have to finance it, and if we had to do that, it would put us in a bad fiscal situation."

Bridges Healthcare also received a grant from the state, which has awareness funds for Project Engage. The agency originally received $2 million a year for two years in 2020, which allowed it to provide more clinical services by leasing and renovating a site in West Haven and a small site in Stratford, she said.

"We were also able to purchase our Wellness on Wheels Mobile Unit which will provide health screenings, physicals, and basic medical care to individuals who normally would seek office-based treatment," Fiorillo said. "Then we would refer them to a health home to make sure they were connected to healthcare."

"We are doing this as part of the agency's overall outreach and engagement in underserved areas to address health disparities to get people connected not only to medical care but substance abuse and mental health services," she added.

This was the last year Bridges Healthcare would have received the $2 million grant, but Fiorillo said they received funding for another four years.

"So we were awarded $1 million a year for four years," she said. "It's a brand new grant but allows us to build on what we said we would do. We had specific goals in our grant proposal that helped us to plan a strategy to enhance outreach and engagement."

Fiorillo said they plan to use the new grant for the assertive community treatment team, an intensive clinical case management model considered at the highest risk, and a close multi-disciplinary team to work with them, which is located out of the West Haven site.

Bridges Healthcare also plans to hire a community engagement specialist to do more outreach in the communities they serve and focus on the underserved communities of West Haven and possibly Stratford.

"This will allow us to build the volume in our clinical sites to continue the services that we started and to continue the mobile unit," said Fiorillo. "But really, the focus of the four years on funding is outreach and engagement and to try to engage underserved populations."