Leaders at a large behavioral health services organization in Philadelphia, PA achieved more than they expected when they began offering hotspot devices and wireless internet service to individuals in their mental health and addiction treatment programs. Not only were many of the clients motivated to stay in treatment, they took advantage of their internet access to grow, learn, and improve the quality of their lives.

“Covid-19 stay-at-home mandates in 2020 made it a huge struggle for our people to stay in treatment,” explained Tara Sullivan-Butrica, Director of Clinical Operations at NeT Centers’ Integrated Community Wellness Centers (ICWC). “Most of these individuals don’t have internet or cable, and even if they have cell phones, they don’t have data plans.” Many are transient, living in temporary housing or shelters.

Tara set out to find a way to help everyone get connected no matter where they lived. The biggest challenge? Getting them plenty of minutes. When faced with very limited talk and text minutes, who would prioritize speaking with their case manager over chatting with family and friends?

An app called TextNow seemed like a good place to start. It offered free unlimited text and talk, but Tara wanted to provide data too. For that, NeT Centers turned to Mobile Citizen. A digital equity project of Voqal, Mobile Citizen provides affordable hotspot devices and unlimited data with 4G LTE and up to 5G speeds exclusively to social welfare agencies, schools, and nonprofits nationwide on the Sprint, now part of T-Mobile network.

What started out as a way to improve telehealth access during the Covid-19 pandemic has turned into a long-term strategy to retain and engage individuals in their outpatient mental health and addiction treatment plans.

ICWC case managers deliver hotspot devices to individuals as they transition to independent living, allowing them to connect cell phones, tablets, or TVs (often donated by NeT Centers staff) to Wi-Fi in their own homes. That means individuals can attend 12-Step meetings virtually, meet with their case managers, watch movies, or even take online classes without worrying about bandwidth or data limits.

“As long as they stay active in treatment, they can keep their Wi-Fi hotspots,” Tara explained. “This helps keeps them motivated to attend their sessions, and just as importantly, it gives them the opportunity to improve their quality of life.”

One individual took advantage of his Wi-Fi hotspot to complete high school courses from home and earn his GED. Another started taking online community college classes.

“Our greatest achievement is when the people in our care move into their own places and become independent again,” Tara explained. The internet plays an important role in that, which is why Tara said ICWC will continue to provide as many free Wi-Fi hotspots as it can in the future.

ICWC is part of NeT Centers, which provides mental health, addiction treatment, foster care, residential group care, adoption, juvenile justice services and child welfare services to more than 10,000 individuals and families every year throughout Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley, and the state of Delaware. To learn more, visit their website at www.netcenters.org.

Affordable mobile internet from Mobile Citizen helps organizations like NeT Centers bridge gaps in home internet access, creating a more equitable health and wellness environment for all. To explore opportunities for your nonprofit, please contact our experts in the Mobile Citizen Customer Service Center at 877-216-9603.