August 2019, Volume XXXIII, No 5


Helping older adults reach their recovery goals

Ellie Skelton, MA

Touchstone Mental Health

Please tell us about the mission of Touchstone Mental Health and how it started.

The mission of Touchstone Mental Health is to inspire hope, healing, and well-being. Our organization was founded in 1982 by a group of social workers from the University of Minnesota to ensure that older adults with mental illness had opportunities to live in a community of their choice with supportive services available to meet their health and recovery goals. For the past 37 years, we have brought cutting-edge ideas and programming to Twin Cities residents who have been diagnosed with having a serious mental illness. Touchstone’s philosophy of compassion and empathy sees each client as a whole person. Staff members aspire to be a touchstone in the lives of the people they serve, providing a point of reference that orients clients to recovery and well-being. We encourage our clients to define their life goals and we help them build supports to achieve them. Independence, dignity, connection, and choice are core values.

How has this mission evolved over the years?

We have adapted and grown to meet the needs of our clients. We do this through fundraising, exploring new grants, and finding new community partners. Safe and stable housing and creating access to community-based services that can assist our clients are areas of special concentration for us. We also work in partnership with many housing providers to ensure tenants aren’t evicted due to untreated mental health symptoms.

People over the age 55 are the fastest growing homeless population in Minnesota.

What can be done to address the problems posed by social determinants of health?

As we focus our efforts to address social determinants of health, people are more likely to have improved housing and mental health stability, thrive in their community, and improve overall well-being. Our program staff work closely with agencies that provide community resources, health care, job training, employment, and food security, in order to optimize whole person health. Most of the people who come to us for services have very low incomes and many receive disability payments. Most of our clients have incomes of less than $10,000 per year, leaving little money for basic items for everyday living.

One of our greatest challenges is supporting people in the critical first weeks after moving into a new setting. People often come to us directly from a hospital, personal crisis, or an unsuccessful housing situation. They come to Touchstone to help get their lives back on track and be part of a community again. Because of the disruption in their lives, they have few—if any—personal items essential to independent living, such as a bed, linens, or even a change of undergarments.

By supporting our clients during short-term emergencies, we help them avoid a downward spiral that results from inconsistent medical treatment, a lack of food, or an unsafe place to live. Our experience shows us that when people have their basic needs met, their symptoms of mental illness decrease, they spend less time in the hospital, and they are more likely to remain safe and in their own homes.

What are some of the ways Touchstone is partnering with medical systems to improve health care outcomes?

Our goal is that each Touchstone client has a primary care provider and an annual physical. We track this metric and encourage clients to adhere to their medical treatment plan. Our clients often have not had consistent medical or behavioral health care and benefit greatly from this. We partner with the University of Minnesota School of Nursing to host Doctor of Nursing Practice students and offer interprofessional education working with a population that often has complex medical needs. Other metrics and goals include reducing inappropriate emergency room visits and providing community mental health services that reduce the need for psychiatric hospitalizations. We are always looking for new ways to partner and collaborate.

Please tell us about the Minnehaha Commons project.

Minnehaha Commons is a permanent supportive housing program opening late 2019 in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. It will house individuals 55 and older who are low income and are homeless. People over the age 55 are the fastest growing homeless population in Minnesota, according to Wilder Research’s homeless report, and we are working to reduce this trend. This is a collaboration of three organizations: Alliance Housing is the builder; Haye Gibson is the property management company; and Touchstone Mental Health will be the onsite service provider. Touchstone will offer customized living services, targeted case management, and housing support services with 24-hour onsite staff for individual support, assistance, and community referrals.

What can you share about your Behavioral Health Home services?

Behavioral Health Home (BHH) services help people with mental illness reach their wellness goals by coordinating medical and mental health care. Our BHH staff will meet you in your home or in the community to develop a health action plan to meet your needs. Our staff provides comprehensive care management, health promotion and wellness, comprehensive transitional care, family support, and referral to community and social support services.

Eligible people include those who have a diagnosed serious mental illness, have medical assistance or a prepaid medical assistance plan, and are not currently receiving Targeted Case Management or Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) services.

Another innovative program you offer is Project Community Success. How does this project work?

Project Community Success is designed to provide transition and housing-sustaining services for 125 low-income adults with a serious mental illness in Hennepin and Anoka counties. Touchstone Mental Health has received commitment for the project from affordable housing providers. Program success is measured by the number of people obtaining and sustaining housing. The program provides services for people who are at imminent risk of becoming homeless. Project staff work with the individuals to develop a housing support plan and crisis plan. Staff provide education on how to be a good tenant, explain the roles and expectations of tenants and landlords, and stress the importance of developing relationships with neighbors, landlords, and others in their buildings. Staff help resolve issues with neighbors or landlords to decrease risk of eviction.

How do you approach the challenges of care team coordination?

Our care guides often accompany clients to various medical appointments, providing support for the client and opening the lines of communication for all parties. When clients are hospitalized, we call their clinic to inform them of the hospitalization and to discuss any client needs.

Care guides often have interdisciplinary team meetings. Since these meetings often are happening in the person’s home or in the community with other members of their team, our care guides will document the meeting and fax a summary to the primary care physician to keep them in the loop.

What criteria does the county use to determine who is eligible to participate in the services you provide?

There is a maze of eligibility depending on the service provided, and this is one of the most challenging parts of accessing mental health care. Private and public payers have different benefit sets, and this can be confusing to someone trying to access services. Our referral webpage ( provides guidance for individuals making referrals to Touchstone Mental Health.

What would you like doctors to know about how your work could benefit their patients?

Helping individuals with mental illness obtain and keep housing, make appointments, follow their physician’s plan of care, and navigate benefits aids in improving overall health. Partnerships between physicians and community mental health providers like Touchstone Mental Health is a key to helping people reach their recovery goals.

Ellie Skelton, MA, is CEO at Touchstone Mental Health and a current board member for the Mental Health Providers Association of Minnesota.



PO Box 6674, Minneapolis, MN 55406

(612) 728-8600

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© Minnesota Physician Publishing · All Rights Reserved. 2019



Ellie Skelton, MA, is CEO at Touchstone Mental Health and a current board member for the Mental Health Providers Association of Minnesota.