Oct. 7 gala to celebrate 25 years of MFC

By Christine Bordelon

“In the care of the sick, have great tenderness in all things,” said Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Mercy Sisters in Ireland, who made it a personal mission to care for and teach poor women and children.

Local New Orleanians are familiar with the Mercy Sisters’ compassionate healing ministry beginning in the Irish Channel in 1869, then through the sponsorship of Mercy Hospital from 1924 to 1994, and now through Mercy Family Center founded in 1992 to offer comprehensive, multidisciplinary outpatient mental health for children, adolescents and families.

In celebration of Mercy Family Center’s 25th anniversary in New Orleans, an inaugural “Color of Hope” gala is scheduled Oct. 7 at Messina’s at the Terminal. It will honor Mercy Family Center’s founders Mercy Sister Sarah Ducey, Ph.D., and Mindy Malik, Ph.D., and feature food, drinks and music by the Edward Coleman Trio.

“Mercy Family Center clinics are the foundation that give us the ability to provide high-quality care in psychiatry, individual and group therapies, best practices in the clinics and the credibility and high standards that come with that,” said psychologist Doug Walker, Ph.D., chief program director at Mercy Family Center.

Mercy Family Center and its three clinic locations (Metairie, Mandeville and the New Orleans West Bank) offer direct mental health care to approximately 3,000 families annually, regardless of income. It also shares its knowledge of mental health best practices with parents, teachers and even physicians in order to assess and address behavioral problems, especially in children, before a need arises for a clinic visit.

Helping in many ways

Walker gave several examples of Mercy’s cutting-edge best practices by mentioning:

  • School-based mental health counseling in archdiocesan schools beginning in 1996;
  • The establishment of the  Chartwell Center for children on the autism spectrum in 1999;
  • The development of Project Fleur de Lis in 2006 in archdiocesan schools and HeadStart programs as a “comprehensive mental health program … with a faith-based framework” in response to trauma children experienced after Hurricane Katrina;
  • The development of Coping Cubes™ that initially supported mental wellness for children affected by trauma, then expanded to address children in military families and suicide prevention in adolescents, which is dramatically increasing.

Mercy Family Center has also worked with the Archdiocese of New Orleans to develop its Catholic Counseling program in 2011; and worked with the Bishop Perry Center in its outreach to Marigny and French Quarter residents.

Beyond Louisiana’s boundaries, Walker said “How’s Your 5,” a public mental health wellness campaign, was developed in response to trauma in children and adults after the Joplin, Missouri, tornado in 2011. Mercy Hospital employees talked to focus group participants affected by the tornado and identified the life areas most impacted by the disaster as: work (employment and school), love (social support), play (joyful activities), sleep (restorative sleep) and eating (nutrition and alcohol consumption). “How’s Your 5” was a quick self-assessment people could make to determine if they needed additional help.

Long, strong history

The Sisters of Mercy continued their spirit of innovation and compassion that McAuley’s “Walking Nuns” started while addressing the needs of people outside of the convent walls in Dublin and in New Orleans in 1869. Upon request of the Redemptorist Fathers during the yellow fever epidemic, six Sisters of Mercy, including Sister Austin Carroll, first arrived from St. Louis on a steamboat.

The early works of these nuns in New Orleans included “visiting the sick, teaching children and adults, nursing the victims of yellow fever epidemics, visiting people in prison and providing a refuge for working girls and orphans.”

Later, the ministry of care developed into the hospital and now Mercy Family Center which strives to promote and increase mental health care.

“We are just driven by mission‚” Walker said.  “We can’t help ourselves. The idea of purpose and serving those in need. The mission statement follows Catherine McAuley and her healing ministry of Jesus by treating people with dignity. We see a need and try to meet it as best we can.”

Continuing innovation 

Mercy Family Center (MFC) in New Orleans is currently collaborating with its parent Mercy Health System in developing Mercy Kids Behavioral Health Program, a prototype for pediatricians to better assess children’s behavioral issues – by asking the right questions – in what is called differential diagnosis, Walker said. It will begin in St. Louis, where Mercy is headquartered, and make its way through the Mercy Health System.

Mercy Health System was recognized this year as one of the top five large U.S. health systems by Truven, an IBM-Watson Health company. Mercy Health System has 44 acute care and specialty (heart, children‚ orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

“I look at Sarah and I look at Mindy, and say we’re here because of you,” Walker said of Mercy Family Center. “A lot of things have evolved,  but it began with two very passionate, caring women who saw a need. That mustard seed grew into this. We chose the right people to grow their mission and vision. That’s why we are celebrating. Oftentimes, we forget our roots. The core of our mission is held in the clinics with these two visionary women. Be true to the mission but also evolve to meet the needs of the community. We’re still here and have a significant impact in our community.”

Gala tickets are $100 and can be purchased online at www.mercy.net/MFCgala or at any Mercy Family Center office. For details, call 220-1526.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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