The Gardere Initiative’s annual informational fair July 23 helped spread the word about how changes to healthcare policy will affect people in the neighborhood, particularly where mental health is concerned, said Jeremy Blunt, vice president of the initiative, and coordinator of the event.

Several vendors and service providers set up booths in the Gardere Initiative’s parking lot, Blunt said, and participants got a sign-in sheet and collected a signature from each booth.

“When the card is full, then we trade that for a brown bag lunch,” Blunt said. “We wanted people to spend time at each booth and learn a little bit about what is available to them.”

A big part of that was Magellan of Louisiana, which administers the behavioral healthcare component for Louisiana’s Medicaid program.

Kathleen Coenson, Magellan’s vice president of system transformation, said Magellan schedules fairs like this one across the state to let people who qualify know that recent changes have made mental health care services easier to access.

“Counseling and therapy were already reimbursable through Medicaid,” Coenson said, “but now substance services are also reimbursable,” she said, adding that those who qualify for Medicaid bear no upfront cost for these services, if applicable. “That’s a huge change. We’re trying to increase awareness of the availability of these services, and let people know how to get access.”

That and an expanded peer model of reinforcing behavioral health support — peer specialists are mentors in long-term recovery from behavioral health issues, according to Magellan’s website — were among the many updates touted at the fair.

Also at the fair was the newly relocated Emerge Center for Communication, Behavior and Development, formerly the Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation. “We moved in April, just down the road (from the Gardere Initiative’s Ned Avenue headquarters), in Innovation Park,” said Lauren Michaud, manager of communications and partnerships at the non-profit organization. With the move came more room, and the ability to expand services for speech, hearing and learning disabilities including autism.

The center does hearing checks for all ages, Michaud said, and evaluates children up to age 18 for learning and behavioral issues, developmental delays and severe problem behavior.

BREC’s Sanora Cole, recreational manager, passed out information promoting their after-school programs at area parks, among other family activities planned for the fall — like a movie night at Mayfair Park in September.

The Agricultural Center offered information on nutrition, and the LSU Neighborhood Art Project kept children occupied with painting projects while their parents looked around.

For more information on The Emerge Center, visit its offices at 7784 Innovation Park Drive (formerly GSRI Road), or call| (225) 343-4232, or visit its website, emergela.org.

For more information on Magellan of Louisiana’s behavioral health services, contact Magellan at (800) 424-4399, or visit www.magellanoflouisiana.com.

For BREC services, visit www.brec.org.

For more information on these services, contact the Gardere Initiative offices, www.gardereinitiative.org.