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Only half of ND mental health care needs being met

JAMESTOWN, N.D--The United States is facing a shortage in the mental health care workforce, and North Dakota is no exception. According to data from the Health Resources and Services Administration, 49.7 percent of North Dakota's mental health ne...

Jennifer Lipetzky, left, program director for the Master of Science of Clinical Counseling at the University of Jamestown, and Paul Olson, UJ vice president of academic affairs, discuss the university's master's program on Monday. The program is new this fall and was created to address the shortage of mental health care professionals in the state, Olson said. Katie Fairbanks / Forum News Serivce
Jennifer Lipetzky, left, program director for the Master of Science of Clinical Counseling at the University of Jamestown, and Paul Olson, UJ vice president of academic affairs, discuss the university's master's program on Monday. The program is new this fall and was created to address the shortage of mental health care professionals in the state, Olson said. Katie Fairbanks / Forum News Serivce

JAMESTOWN, N.D-The United States is facing a shortage in the mental health care workforce, and North Dakota is no exception.

According to data from the Health Resources and Services Administration, 49.7 percent of North Dakota's mental health needs are being met, and the U.S. has met 47.7 percent of the needs.

Stutsman County is a designated high-needs area based on the elderly ratio of the region, said Terri Lang, project coordinator with the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Only six North Dakota counties are not designated shortage areas: Ward, McHenry, Morton, Burleigh, Cass and Grand Forks.

The shortage of mental health care professionals is only one of many issues in services seen across the state.

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In 2014, a consultant identified problems with mental health services in the state, including inadequate emergency services, workforce shortages and the refusal of the state to spend money on expanding services, according to the report by Schulte Consulting.

To help with the problems, the University of Jamestown added a master's degree in cllinical counseling this fall. The program was created to help address the shortage of mental health care workers in the state, said Paul Olson, UJ vice president of academic affairs.

"It's important for us that the program did meet a social need," Olson said.

The master's program prepares students to work in various mental health areas, such as hospitals, school counseling centers, substance abuse treatment, private practice and mental health centers.

Jennifer Lipetzky, program director, said the need for counselors stems partially from the reduction of the stigma in seeking mental health care. People are more willing to come forward, but the number of therapists and other professionals is not increasing at the same rate, Lipetzky said. Kids today are also feeling more pressures that can be addressed through counseling, she said.

People are also deterred from becoming counselors because of their perception of what the job is, Lipetzky said. Many people have the perception that counseling is just listening to people talk about their problems, she said, but there is also a rewarding aspect.

"The rewarding part is seeing people change what they are thinking and feeling," Lipetzky said. "If people understood everything the field has, more would be interested in going into it."

Lipetzky worked with the North Dakota State Hospital and the South Central Human Service Center to create internships and practicum opportunities for students in the program.

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"We want the program to prepare everybody for what they need in the real world," Lipetzky said.

Across the state, a Senate bill passed during the 2015 North Dakota legislative session put into place a voucher program for people who need substance abuse treatment but don't have insurance coverage or access to services, according to the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

The bill also requires mandatory mental health training for teachers and administrators.

South Central Human Service Center became the third regional center to offer unscheduled mental health and substance use assessments, according to the North Dakota Department of Human Services. The Jamestown center began open access in July, joining the centers in Fargo, Minot and Williston.

The statement from the department said the goal of the open-access model is to prevent crises and reduce no-shows. The department hopes to expand open access statewide by the end of June 2017.

South Central Human Service Center Regional Director Dan Cramer said the center worked with UJ to create internships for the master's program students. Cramer said he would be open to recruiting graduates of the program.

"There is a need statewide for master's-level therapists," Cramer said. "It's exciting for us to see the opportunity for the center but also other agencies and providers to grow."

The biggest change at the Human Service Center has been offering open access, Cramer said.

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"Open access has been successful in getting care to the most vulnerable and at-risk people when they need it," Cramer said.

The next change for the South Central Human Service Center is prioritizing getting resources and services to the most at-risk clients, such as individuals with chronic addictions or severe mental health problems, Cramer said.

The 2016 report "Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health" speaks to the problem with the stigma of mental health issues, Cramer said.

In U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy's preface, he said the report aims to shift the way society thinks about substance misuse and substance use disorders while defining actions that can be taken to prevent and treat these conditions.

The stigma of mental and behavioral health issues is a problem facing the state and the nation, Cramer said. Medical issues get more funding and attention, he said.

"It impacts people's willingness to reach out for help," Cramer said. "Open access allows people to get help when they need it and have the courage to come in."

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