Northland Counseling Center last year was one of two agencies in Minnesota awarded funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, or SAMHSA.

The two-year, $4 million grant is intended to assist agencies that offer comprehensive mental health and substance abuse services transition into what is known as a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic, CCBHC.

Northland Counseling Center offers a variety of mental health and substance use disorder services to children and adults, and as Koochiching County’s only community mental health center, a news release said Northland Counseling Center recognized the CCBHC model of care to be a perfect fit for the community. This model is designed to be a one-stop-shop for individuals with complex mental, chemical, and physical needs and offers aspects of care that simply are not provided in other settings such as private practice.

“Over recent years, Northland has been able to expand and increase services in an effort to meet the needs of the community,” said Allison O’Hara Meyers, director of operations in the International Falls office. “The CCBHC, is a model that ensures comprehensive care as well as integration of all aspects of a person’s care and really serves as the best standard. While clients at Northland have had many service options available, as a CCBHC, the goal is to provide quick access to comprehensive services such as psychotherapy, psychiatry, crisis services, and substance use disorder treatment.”

Care coordinator

According to the release, a key component to the CCBHC is the care coordinator, who can work with clients to help them connect to other services, coordinate with other providers, help with medications and compliance, and ensure engagement in services for best treatment outcome. The addition of the care coordinator is a significant asset to both clients and providers, and all clients will be able to work with the care coordinator if they choose. This service is tailored to the client and based on their level of need in regards to how often a client may have contact with the care coordinator.

Serving Veterans

While Northland Counseling Center has aimed to provide services to service members and veterans, restrictions on service options and providers has historically limited access. Coverage for mental health care does not include some of the services that are offered at Northland Counseling Center and may be helpful to veterans. This grant allowed agency officials to train staff across all of its programs to become competent in working with the veteran population and to become certified in veteran’s behavioral health through the National Council of Behavioral Health. This certification included learning more about military culture, combat-related stress, and the struggles military personnel face when returning home. Veterans will now be able to access services such as adult rehabilitative mental health services, outpatient substance use disorder treatment, and other therapeutic services for which they were previously ineligible, the release said.

Open access

As a CCBHC, Northland Counseling Center is able to offer rapid access to services based on the client’s goals and needs for services. Open access appointments are available daily for people who are seeking services with some urgency, although they do not need to be in a crisis. Open access allows a comprehensive diagnostic assessment to be completed without a typical wait-time. Once the assessment is complete, the person is connected to the care coordinator and they are eligible for others services.

“Rather than waiting two to three weeks for an initial appointment, clients who are ready to begin services are able to be seen, evaluated, and referred quickly,” O’Hara said. “While people are able to choose when they begin, the option for rapid access to services is a better fit for some. Northland’s mobile crisis response team (CRT) is still available 24/7 and able to connect with clients quickly by calling 211.”

Behavioral health home

While not a part of the CCBHC transition, Northland Counseling Center in International Falls is adding what is known as a behavioral health home, or BHH. This program is another service that assists clients in connecting not only to mental health resources, but to other resources as well that may benefit those with mental illness. The BHH program consists of a registered nurse and mental health practitioners who provide holistic care. Staff within this program, assist clients with health and wellness promotion, care management, navigating the healthcare system, and more. Although there is a case management component to BHH, it is specifically intended for those clients who not qualify for targeted case management, another service available locally.

Invested in the community

Northland Counseling Center has been providing services in Koochiching County since 1959 and recently began providing services in Lake of the Woods County. The center’s main office is located in Grand Rapids, with offices in Aitkin and Hibbing as well.

Locally, Northland employs 43 people and two more in Lake of the Woods County. Progress continues to be made on a building project that will house several different programs under one roof. Two years ago, Northland Counseling began evaluating and planning for a new facility to accommodate the growth and received over $2 million in grant funding in partnership with Koochiching County. Northland received also received $175,000 from The Otto Bremer Trust toward this project. The CCBHC model is consistent with the project’s concept in bringing a number of different services under one roof and allows for the addition of other programs. The process has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but management is hopeful to break ground in 2021, the release said. Northland Counseling Center continues to provide a range of mental health services, both in person and virtually, throughout the pandemic. These virtual services include, but are not limited to, psychiatry, psychotherapy for group and individual, and crisis services. For in person visits, safety measures are in place to ensure safe mental health care for both clients and staff.