Improving Mental Health in Rural Minnesota

In rural Minnesota, challenges to receiving mental health care can include long waits for appointments and long commutes to see a specialist. This year, less than half of Minnesotans who experience a mental illness will receive treatment due to barriers like these. Minnesota’s hospitals believe it is time to improve access to mental health care throughout Minnesota – and they are partnering with communities to lead the way.

Mental health care is health care, and every Minnesotan deserves access to safe, effective and affordable mental health care.

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Addressing the challenges of mental health care in Minnesota

At LifeCare Medical Center in Roseau, Minnesota, Director of Behavioral Health Jan Carr knew there had to be a way the hospital could reach beyond its walls to address mental illnesses. She worked with other hospital leaders to create a “roving therapist” program that reaches patients across Roseau County when they are most likely to seek care.

The roving therapist is a behavioral health specialist who responds to potential health crises wherever they arise – the hospital’s emergency department, school, church, jail or elsewhere in the community. People experiencing mental health crises are immediately evaluated by the roving therapist in-person or by phone and are connected with the care that’s right for them. This gives people the flexibility to receive the care they need through an inpatient hospital, behavioral health therapist or support group.

Roving therapists prevent mental health crisis situations

Dessa Bergan, the hospital’s first roving therapist, says the value of the roving therapist program is its ability keep people in their communities. This provides patients the treatment they need without causing disruption to their lives that could spur another crisis.

“When patients are in a state of crisis and they are required to do inpatient hospitalization, it disrupts their lives,” said Bergan. “They are taken out of their community, their employment and their schools. The roving therapist program can keep people in their own community.”

Minnesota community’s solution is a success

The roving therapist program is not only helping community members who need mental health services; it has also strengthened the health of the entire community. According to Roseau’s police chief, having a roving therapist who can see patients in the jail allows inmates to receive care and keeps more police officers in the community.

In schools, the program has meant students experiencing mental illness have more time to learn. “There was a time when students were going to Thief River Falls or Grand Forks to receive services and they would miss all day at school or half a day at school,” said Jennifer Cole, a licensed school social worker. “Now, having the availability locally, they can be gone for an hour from class and then they’re back and ready to learn.”

Minnesota needs a statewide solution to mental health

By providing residents with mental health care when and where they need it, the roving therapist model has improved the health of the entire Roseau community. Similar programs could strengthen communities statewide, but more state funding for mental health that makes programs like this possible is needed.

Though hospitals continue to innovate solutions for their communities, it’s time for a statewide solution to mental health that improves access for every Minnesota community. A strong solution to our state’s mental health challenges would provide funding for communities like Roseau to create programs that meet their unique needs.

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