Johnson Memorial Hospital Foundation Third Annual Gala Benefitting Mental Health Coming Up Feb. 23

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing

Photograph Provided

A little over three years ago, the board of the Johnson Memorial Hospital (JMH) Foundation conducted a needs assessment to determine the most pressing health concerns in the community. The one that topped the list was mental health.

“Mental health continues to be an increasing problem for both children and adults,” says Jennifer Tennell, the Executive Director for the JMH Foundation.

Therefore, the staff determined to raise money by hosting a gala at the JW Marriott in downtown Indy with proceeds aiding resources to improve access for behavioral healthcare services in Johnson County. Though initially, the hospital staff considered holding the gala every other year, the inaugural event was so well received that they decided to do it annually.

“The initial goal during the first year was to raise $60,000, but we ended up doubling that,” says Tennell, who each year puts together a short video clip of several people sharing their personal stories about how mental health has affected them.

“What you soon realize is that practically everyone has a story, and it’s important to share those stories,” says Tennell, noting that, like any other illness, mental illness does not discriminate. It can affect anyone.

According to Tennell, mental illness is responsible for $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year. In addition, more than 1.7 million youth with major depressive episodes do not receive treatment. Part of the reason for that is insurance-related. Another issue is the stigma that surrounds the subject.

“No one asks to be debilitated by mental illness, but it’s a disease just like any other, and it can take you down,” Tennell says.

She recalls a meeting soon after she joined the JMH Foundation in 2015 in which a colleague commented that not that long ago it might take a patient up to nine months to be seen by a mental health specialist.

“That timeframe stuck with me because frankly, someone in crisis might not have nine weeks, nine days, nine hours or even nine minutes,” Tennell says.

That’s precisely why last year, through grant funding, the hospital secured Tricia Duncan, a full-time navigator and community health worker at Adult & Child Health Services. Housed at the hospital, Duncan is an immediate, on-site resource to any patient who discloses that they are struggling psychologically.

“It’s important to treat the whole person and provide a bridge to services and resources so when a patient goes to a doctor’s appointment and makes a connection with someone who will listen, it can make a difference in his or her life,” Duncan says. “They receive help with overcoming barriers and can leave their doctor’s office with a plan and an appointment already scheduled. Because of integrated health care, more people are getting help and improving their health and well-being.”     

Tennell notes that previously doctors at JMH would see patients for a physical exam and if a patient mentioned that they were going through a tough time, physicians didn’t know how to respond. Now, however, they can include Duncan in the conversation who then, in turn, gets them pointed in the right direction so that they can get the help they need.

The Third Annual Foundation Gala, which grows larger every year, is a swanky, festive soiree, attended by doctors, administrators and the public and hosted by the Indy Channel’s Raphael Sanchez. This year’s gala will be held on February 23, with reception, cocktails, hors-d’oeuvres and a silent auction beginning at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner, program and a live auction at 6:30 p.m. Dancing with the First Impressions Band begins at 8 p.m.

“I’ve never been to a fundraiser where from the first to the last song of the night there are people out on the dance floor,” Tennell says. “Last year we had to double the size of the dance floor because it was so popular.”

She says it’s nice to not only see people having a great time but to know that so many are passionate about raising money for mental health.

“The subject is still at the forefront,” Tennell says. “There’s good traction with what we’re doing. The need is still there.”

The Johnson Memorial Health Foundation is located at 1125 W. Jefferson St. in Franklin. Individual tickets for the gala cost $175, which includes drinks and food. (Black tie optional.) Register online at or call 317-346-3703.                                                                             

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