Mental health reform underway in rural Minnesota – Duluth News Tribune


WADENA, Minnesota – It is hoped that a move to more proactive programs will reverse the tide of mental health problems that have plagued many rural counties in central Minnesota.

Wadena County Director of Human Services Jennifer Westrom presented several provisions to Wadena County Commissioners on August 16, all intent on being proactive rather than reacting to situations that continue to emerge with mental health.

High on the list was the recent decision to appoint a mental health coordinator who will work in Wadena, Crow Wing, Morrison and Todd counties to help identify initiatives to get the area out of this crisis. Based on the Greater State of Mind 2021 project brought together by

District 5+ mental health initiative

, This is a required position that will focus on expanding the availability of mental health resources to the population. The coordinator will be an employee of Sourcewell and will start in late 2022 or early 2023.

Another is the work that Wadena County Human Services staff Madi Lausten and Carlie Reading are doing for at-risk youth in the county. They secured funding for the program through Family Services Collaborative to deliver a five-week program focused on life skills for young people. There were nine youths from across the county who participated in the initial programming and about five were able to attend regularly. Some of that has to do with transportation, Lawston said.

LIFE 101 provides education and support for at-risk youth while at the same time using local resources and connecting youth with community partners. LIFE 101 works to help young people develop independent living skills, an evidence-based intervention supported by state and local childcare initiatives. Equipping young people with skills for independent living helps promote success in adulthood and prepares them for life’s challenges, thus reducing the likelihood that young people will encounter difficulties in the future. We hope that young people will need less access to ‘rescue services’ in the future as well as by learning how to navigate more effectively in the adult world.

Jennifer Westrom.  jpg

Jennifer Westrom, director of human services for Wadena County. picture sent

“The Wadena County Child Protection and Child Mental Health Services teams have noted the need for a local Independent Living Skills (ILS) program for the adolescent clients we serve in our area,” according to documents shared by Westrum. Currently, the closest available ILS program is hosted in Brainerd, Minnesota, presenting a transportation and logistics barrier for many of the families we serve. By hosting the ILS program in our county, we hope to reach more young people who may not have the same opportunities to learn independent living skills that will serve them into adulthood.”

The program aims to help young people learn how to build healthy relationships, live a healthy lifestyle, learn how to stay safe, and successfully navigate the nuances of the adult world. This program has funding for three more rounds and can take up to 16 rounds per round.

Lack of staff and lack of family

One area with no immediate treatment is the issue of a county paying for use of a CBD hospital bed when a patient does not meet the criteria for government funding for their stay there. Usually the individual is moved to a location that requires less severe services and at a much lower cost. But staffing shortages have led to limited availability of beds.

“There is no family to take out this kid either,” Westrom said.

In this case, the county has run into problems as costs start to increase very quickly when a bed costs more than $2,000 a day per person to stay there. Westrum noted that several local employees and one city that did a national household search in 35 states could take this individual, bearing in mind that they must be visited by county employees on a regular basis, so they can’t be too far out of reach or might lead to another unnecessary cost. Could not find a bed.

Before the pandemic, shifting residents from one level of care to another was difficult. Since the onset of the epidemic, it has become almost impossible to find a suitable place for drainage. This occurs either due to a shortage of staff or due to understaffing due to illness.

In these cases, the patient no longer needs the same acute level of care that put him to bed, yet he still needs somewhere to go before leaving the house.

“I think we did everything we could to get them to a lower level of care,” Westrom said. “Once you move into a group home, the county won’t pay for it anymore.”

At the time of the meeting, the individual was receiving care for 20 days at a rate of about $2,400 per day. This is a cost to be paid to Wadena County, and one that no one can plan or plan for.
What will help reduce this type of condition from being needed, leaders say, is more work being done in the home of the mentally ill.


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