Forward Focus: Dr. Adriana Torres-O'Connor on Walter Wallace, Jr. and the importance of mental health support - Generocity Philly


Nov. 17, 2020 7:00 am

Forward Focus: Dr. Adriana Torres-O’Connor on Walter Wallace, Jr. and the importance of mental health support

President and CEO of Mental Health Partnerships discusses how they support marginalized communities who face additional mental health challenges as a result of racism and inequity.
“With the recent tragedy in the death of Walter Wallace, Jr., we maintain a firm stand in calling for additional mental health resources and for proper training of police officers on handling mental health crisis calls. ”

Dr. Adriana Torres-O’Connor joined Mental Health Partnerships in December 2018. She is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in community behavioral health. She earned her doctorate of psychology (Psy.D.) and master of business administration (MBA) degrees from Widener University in Pennsylvania and also holds a master of social work (MSW) degree from New York University. Dr. Torres-O’Connor is the first Latina to serve as president and CEO in Mental Health Partnerships’ 60+ year history. She is also a member of a number of professional associations including the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA), American Psychological Association (APA), and Pennsylvania Psychological Association (PPA).

Generocity: Generocity’s ADVANCE focuses on “advancing” both your mission and your career. What are the benefits of hearing from other organizations in the Philadelphia social impact sector? How have professional development experiences helped you deliver on funding goals for your organization?

Torres-O’Connor: As a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 20 years experience of working in the community mental health field, I’ve seen how mental health intersects with every sector, and it’s vitally important for all us working in the social impact sector to stay informed and connected to what’s happening in the communities which we serve. My professional development experiences have helped me build mutually beneficial and trusting relationships which can only positively impact Mental Health Partnerships (MHP).

Generocity: Did you attend ADVANCE 2019? If so, what was your biggest takeaway? What did you learn that you have since implemented in your own organization, and what were the results? If not, how can ADVANCE 2020 help your organization solve one of its current dilemmas?

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Torres-O’Connor: I was not aware of ADVANCE 2019, so I did not attend. Based on what I’ve gathered, ADVANCE 2020 sounds like a great opportunity for social impact organizations and leaders to learn from each other and share insights and experiences to further impact our community.

Generocity: In July, Generocity launched TRACE (Toward Response and Community Equity), a yearlong initiative tracking Philadelphia’s response to a pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism. In the midst of COVID-19, how has your organization adapted to meet the changing needs of your stakeholders? What do you hope to learn at ADVANCE that will help you better serve our community?

Torres-O’Connor: With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mental Health Partnerships made swift programmatic changes to ensure the safety of both staff and participants.  Many services, including training, workshops and advocacy shifted to telehealth and virtual platforms. In particular, the organization’s mobile peer support teams, targeted case management teams and family peer support teams have continued to offer individual and group services via telehealth.

Center based recovery learning centers quickly implemented federal and state health safety guidelines to ensure the safety of staff and participants, while services continued and the mental health chat line expanded hours to provide added support to those struggling with mental health symptoms and loneliness.

We hope to connect with and learn from other organizations who have had to navigate with a similar hybrid approach to meeting the needs of their stakeholders’.

Generocity: Our nation is currently grappling with the many ways systemic racism infiltrates our society: it affects our policing system, our education system, housing, health care, and more. Through your work, how do you advocate for racial equity? How can ADVANCE help you create a more diverse, inclusive, equitable organization?

Torres-O’Connor: The work of Mental Health Partnerships and the peer experience commit us to advocating and supporting our participants who are dealing with mental health challenges —the majority of whom are members of Black and brown communities. Many are experiencing the trauma associated with racism, injustice, inequity and marginalization in our society.

With the recent tragedy in the death of Walter Wallace, Jr., we maintain a firm stand in calling for additional mental health resources and for proper training of police officers on handling mental health crisis calls. We are interested in partnering with other organizations in working towards systemic change in these efforts.

Generocity: During these physically isolating times, innovative technology has become increasingly important. How has your organization used technology to solve the unique challenges posed by COVID-19? What has helped you, your team members, and your stakeholders stay connected?

Torres-O’Connor: Similarly to so many organizations, Mental Health Partnerships has substantially increased its use of and reliance on technology over the past several months. We’ve been fortunate to have pivoted in a fairly smooth manner by assuring that our team members have the necessary knowledge and tools and do their jobs both effectively and efficiently. As a team, we maintain regular communication using various technology platforms.


Torres-O’Connor is part of our Forward Focus series, a series of stories highlighting the experiences and work of nonprofit leaders in Philadelphia. The goal of the series is two-fold: 1) to provide insight on shared challenges in the social impact sector and 2) to help nonprofit professionals get the most of Generocity’s virtual ADVANCE conference.

Did you miss last week’s ADVANCE conference?

Read the recap here.

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