Earlier this week Bernadine Joselyn, Mary Magnuson and I had a conversation with Kristian Braeken at Region 9 about their telehealth plans and programs (supported with Blandin Foundation funding). It’s interesting to hear about what they are doing and the impact they are having but a key point is how they are using this to ensure that they have a healthy workforce, which makes this as economic development issue as well as community development and health. (Also worth nothing that the project started late in 2019.)
Region 9 serves the following counties: Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Sibley, Waseca and Wantonwan. They have created a portal that provides referrals and access to mental health services. Actually better than that – they didn’t create anything, they found a solution with Direct Assessments and Counseling. It’s been a great way to reach community members who can be geographically out of reach. And it’s been a great way to connect those people (and others) to providers and counselors who do not necessarily live in the area.
Being able to access counselors outside Region 9 has been a coup because there’s a shortage in the area. The push to move everything online (due to COVID) has opened up everyone’s interest in doing more things online. Zoom was a niche word a year ago; now everyone is doing it so there’s a growing comfort level.
Some regulations have been loosened making it easier to use accessible technology. And with the stress of a pandemic, job loss and change, students doing everything differently and with seniors experiencing more acute seclusion the need is greater. Also, Region 9 works with people who require court mandated assessments and services.
People have found that they like it. Within a month, the portal was operating to capacity. People with court mandated assessments appreciate the convenience. Many other experience the privacy of services from home. They found that before the online option people might drive a couple hours to get service or forego services altogether. And going online has opened the door to more diverse clients, especially immigrant groups.
By all accounts it’s been a success. It’s easy to see that much of this will continue to serve a purpose even after the stringent rules aroudn COVID are relaxed.