Roadmap to success: Commissioner Odermann highlights behavioral health issues

"Dickinson's elected leaders address priorities" A series of interviews highlighting city officials, commissioners and the Mayor on priorities for Dickinson as we enter the third and fourth quarters. What's on the radar? What are they concerned about? What do they plan to propose in the final quarters? What are their constituents asking them? Etc. This first part will focus on responses from City Commissioner John Odermann.

John Odermann, pictured, is a commissioner for the City of Dickinson. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

More than four weeks have passed since the Voices of Dickinson Series launched in The Press, highlighting the various concerns, comments and suggestions from the community on topics ranging from health, education, poverty, economy, tax, budget, crime and infrastructure. As part of this series of articles, The Press gathered information relating to those topics from our readers and polling participants and relayed those concerns to city officials.

This second five-part series features the responses from officials, with interviews relating to what actions can be taken to address citizen concerns.

City Commissioner John Odermann began serving the City of Dickinson in June 2020. Like other city leaders, Odermann dons many different hats within the community from being the manager of mission and ancillary services at CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson Medical Center to being the head football coach for Trinity Catholic Schools.

Overall, health care performed well in The Press' surveys as it related to southwest North Dakota, with Odermann noting that CHI was recently rated as the only five-star CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) hospital in the state.

“Health care in the community, I think, is well situated. We've got great options, great facilities. For a town our size, to have a $100 million hospital and to have a really nice clinic across the street is maybe a little unheard of, especially in this day and age,” he said. “That helps us grow as a community when we have good reliable health care. We have a great emergency room, we have two great clinics in town. And then we have a hospital that has been in the community for over 100 years, and does a great job of providing care for people… We have really dedicated staff and doctors (and) ancillary staff at those facilities that make sure that it's first-class care.”


In the May surveys and polls, conducted around the city as part of the first series, behavioral health was among the most concerning for residents. Odermann has been one of the most vocal elected officials in the city highlighting the growing issue at public meetings.

At CHI, Odermann said that they are beginning a Community Health Needs Assessment process, which is conducted every three years. The assessment is a survey in partnership with Southwestern District Health that asks the community where gaps are and helps medical professionals and city officials identify those issues.

“... Behavioral mental health and substance abuse disorders have been something that's been identified as definitely a gap that needs to be filled. And there's a role for the hospital there, there's a role for Southwestern District Health, there's a role for Badlands Human Services, there's a role for the city, for the county. We want to get everybody at the table to try to solve this issue, because there's only so much that the hospital can do,” Odermann said. “... And so we have to get together and figure out what role best fits you and your organization in a way that we can work collaboratively and together to solve this issue. It's a big issue and it's going to become a bigger issue.”

Odermann, who also serves on the Homeless Coalition, also noted that the organization is trying to start conversations for a transitional living facility for homeless, working individuals that helps people get back on their feet.

“... So very often, money isn't the issue. It's an issue of if we got this space and it was a functional space that we could use for this, who's going to actually manage and run it. Because you can't just have a transitional center without somebody that's actually managing and making sure that those people are doing what they need to do to get back on their feet,” Odermann said.

In the past year, Odermann said that Dickinson’s “forward thinking, problem solving approach” to the coronavirus pandemic kept the city going.

“I think that was something that the our healthcare system in Dickinson did a really great job of of coordinating with whether it be CHI, Sanford or Southwestern District Health; we did a really good job of coordinating and making sure that we were prepared in the event that we did have a surge,” Odermann said. “Thankfully, we never saw a situation where we were overwhelmed, but we were prepared for the situation if it did arise. I think the great thing about Dickinson is just how collaborative we are as a community. You have a lot of people that have great relationships with each other, regardless of where they work. That's just a really great part about our community is that we're constantly keeping those lines of communication open, and making sure that we have contingency plans in place in the event of a sentinel event.”

In the second part of this five-part series, we will feature remarks from Commissioner Nikki Wolla.

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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