Woodland Centers improves access to mental health services – West Central Tribune
WILLMAR – Improving access to mental health services such as counseling and treatment remains a priority for Kandiyohi County and Woodland Centers. Even as society continues to rebound from the challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the need for mental health services remains strong and, in some cases, growing.
Kandiyohi County Council heard Woodland Centers’ annual report on October 18 and got a taste of what the past year has been like for the mental health facility. Woodland Centers provides mental health services to adults and adolescents in seven area counties – Chippewa, Big Stone, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Meeker, Renville and Swift. In 2021, Woodland Centers served 4,646 clients.
“Eighty-seven percent of those clients were from our seven-county area. In fact, we serve people statewide,” said Dr. Ashley Kjos, CEO of Woodland Centers. “We serve people from 59 counties in the state of Minnesota. We also serve people from out of state.”
Over the past two years, Woodland staff have been working on ways to better serve these communities. This included completing the process to become a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic.
“It’s really impacted everything we do, mostly in a positive way,” Kjos said.
Being a CCBHC required Woodland Centers to implement a comprehensive assessment process that is not limited to a person’s mental health, but to all aspects of their health, including physical and environmental conditions such as of life. This then helps Woodland Centers create integrated treatment plans for clients, which includes working with other organizations and healthcare providers to get a person all the help they need.
“We know we just can’t treat mental health,” Kjos said.
Woodland Center’s same-day assessment appointments for new clients, which began in 2020, contribute to this goal. If a new client calls Woodland Centers for assistance, they can be seen the same day to start the process. The initial assessment appointment is usually held remotely with a dedicated assessment staff member. This has not only helped people get the help they need faster, but has also significantly reduced the rate of no-shows for appointments. On average, Woodland Centers fills 15-20 appointment slots per day.
While same-day assessment appointments are typically done remotely, Woodland Centers has resumed offering most of its in-person appointments. About 65% of client services in 2022 were performed in person, although an additional 35% were performed over the phone or through a telemedicine program. Kjos said whether to have in-person or remote appointments depends a lot on the individual client. It’s usually best to have dates with children in person, but some adults may actually prefer remote meetings. Remote or telemedicine appointments have their advantages.
“It’s a very beautiful thing when we have our snow days in Minnesota,” Kjos said. “We can still see our clients, we can still provide care. That’s very important to us and the clients.”
Woodland Centers is also working to reach even more of its service populations. Last year, Woodland received a Primewest Health Equity grant, to help the organization increase both equity and inclusion for clients and staff.
“Especially in Kandiyohi County, there’s a large population that we don’t serve. Not because there aren’t mental health or addictions needs, but because we need to do a better work to be inclusive of these populations,” Kjos said, adding there is still a lot of work to do, but it’s exciting work.
Substance abuse continues to be a major problem in the area and Woodland Centers has increased programming to better meet these needs. This year, Woodland Centers became the first naloxone access site in its region. Naloxone is a drug that quickly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
“Anyone in our communities can walk into a Woodland Centers office and access naloxone. We’ll give you a kit and we’ll train you on it,” Kjos said. “It really is a life-saving drug for someone who overdoses on opioids.”
Each kit contains three doses of Naloxone. So far, Woodland Centers has distributed about 100 kits, or 300 individual doses that can be used to potentially save 300 lives.
“Our hope is that it starts with saving a life with naloxone and goes through treatment and we can help get those people into treatment,” Kjos said.
Unfortunately, it is not only adults who suffer from drug addiction, but also adolescents. Woodland Centers launched a teen program this year to better reach these younger customers.
“It started in January and it’s been full since we opened,” Kjos said. There are plans to partner with Prairie Lakes Youth Programs to help people in the PLYP.
In an attempt to prevent children from falling into the addiction hole, Woodland Centers applied for a grant to provide behavioral health services to five area schools. This would bring licensed drug and alcohol counselors to these five schools to teach students about the dangers of drug use and perhaps help young people who may already be in need.
“The goal is early intervention and prevention,” Kjos said. “We can talk to students and help them understand the risks and dangers.”
Woodland Centers has faced challenges over the past few years, including staffing shortages. It takes several years of training and supervision before a clinician can practice alone. Woodland Center must also compete with higher-paying positions in the metro area or at larger healthcare companies. All of this means there is a waiting list to start therapy, which is a concern when clients need help.
“It’s really tough,” Kjos said.
Despite the challenges, Woodland Centers continues to provide much needed mental health services to clients across the region. The organization also continues to find new ways to improve access, provide additional programs and reach out to the community and this is a service the county council is pleased to have.
“That mental health services are also available in our community is just wonderful,” said Commissioner Corky Berg.