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Region looks to improve mental health services with help of coordinator

Regional directors have met for months and collaborated with Sourcewell to have a strategic approach to mental health needs. The mental health coordinator would lead this effort across the entire region.

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WADENA — Wadena County Human Services Director Jennifer Westrum made it clear it's time to act to address the mental health crisis taking place in Wadena County and abroad when talking with the Wadena County Board on Tuesday Aug. 9.

“When I arrived in this position I was struck by the lack of mental health resources in Wadena County.” Westrum said “As a psychologist I am very concerned about the lack of resources for our county in general.”

Her concerns led her to take part in collaborative gatherings with leaders across Region 5. This particular cooperative includes Sourcewell, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd counties and The Region 5+ Adult Mental Health Initiative. The direction that this group is headed involves hiring a mental health coordinator that would take a broad look at services and come up with a plan of action for this region.

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Jennifer Westrum, Wadena County Human Services director.
Contributed photo

“What we found is not only are we lacking mental health resources in the region, but we as a county are lacking significant resources for our citizens,” Westrum said. She said some needs include local mental health centers, substance use disorder treatment or services for children. “We do not have specialized services for the most part that focus just on children.”

Regional directors have met for months and collaborated with Sourcewell to have a strategic approach to mental health needs. The mental health coordinator would lead this effort across the entire region.

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“This coordinator will work with human services, with local hospitals, law enforcement, our school districts, county attorney offices in all five of the counties,” Westrum said. “And we will look at where we have resources and where we don't and try to build on it.”

The conversation on mental health needs led commissioners to talk further about needs such as mental health hospital beds in the area to avoid putting those in mental health crisis in the emergency room or, worse, in jail. The amount of available beds has shrunk and there is little indication from the state that more are on the way. It brought up the idea that perhaps when the new hospital is in use in Wadena (spring 2023), the old Tri-County Health Care buildings could serve a need for the mentally ill. One thing was clear, commissioners agreed that this was an issue in need of action.

Westrum is hopeful that after the two year period, the position would not be needed, rather current staff would have the tools and steps to make positive change.

Mental health in our region
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The hope is that the change seen would be getting ahead of the curve. Rather than getting to a point where those in need end up in the emergency room, services would be made available to them well in advance. In this way, the emergency rooms would be left for those not dealing with mental crises. This is a significant issue in area hospitals at this time.
Related to this, Westrum shared that they have a mobile crisis team, but rather than going to homes or the jail to help, they are often going to the emergency department. The goal is to get to people before they reach an emergency situation.
"We have to change the way we do things," Westrum said.
Westrum explained that the group of collaborators have pulled the trigger and posted for this position. They would be an employee of Sourcewell, working for and with the counties and will begin in late 2022 or early 2023. Wadena County's 2023 contribution was covered through the funds directly provided by AMHI funds. This position is expected to be in place for a minimum of two years.

At this time, funding is coming in from those benefiting from the services including Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Region 5/AMHI.

At their Aug. 16 regular meeting, the county board approved the $35,000 expense for the year 2024. It will come out of the MCIT dividend fund.

He's a writer, editor, photographer, truth seeker and promoter of the Wadena area.
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