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Mental health
Mental health treatment can still be hard to access locally
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The latest estimates suggest that more than 47 millions American adults — 19% of the population — are experiencing a mental illness.

The proportion in North Dakota is almost exactly the same: 19.13% or 108,000 people, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America.

North Dakota matches the national percentage on another troubling data point — the number of adults who weren’t able to get treatment for their mental illness. That number nationwide is 23.6%, and it hasn’t fallen since 2011. In North Dakota, the percentage is 23.3%

While the MHA study doesn’t offer county-level detail, the situation in Williams County, particularly in Williston, is no rosier. In an online health care survey in January 2020, 79 percent of respondents said access to behavioral or mental health services in Williston was poor.

That tracks with the responses recorded by CHI in Community Health Needs Assessments done in both 2016 and 2019, where access to mental health services was among the highest needs.

Access to care

One of the issues highlighted in the Williston study, which was commissioned in 2019 and released in September, is the lack of in-patient options for behavioral health.

It’s more than just that, though.

“Everyone is quick to jump to the in-patient services of behavioral health,” was one comment from the Williston survey. “There remains a lack of services in all realms, particularly the initial diagnosis and service that happens prior to the inpatient. There is a missing level of service in Williston.”

There are a few crisis beds available in Williston, but they are not for everyone. Char Ferrell, the regional director of the Northwest Human Services Center, told the Williston Herald the beds are not appropriate for patients who are at risk of suicide, and they aren’t available on a walk-in basis.

The crisis facility, which is run by the North Dakota Association for the Disabled, is more designed for people who are unable to care for themselves at home and would be at risk of having to go outside the county for help.

Northwest Human Services Center does offer walk-in help for people. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and people who need help can walk in and go through a screening process to see if they qualify for a full assessment.

If they don’t qualify — Northwest is aimed at people with the most severe and persistent mental illness — then the staff works to refer them to another provider. Sometimes that means setting up the appointment, Ferrell, said.

“We don’t want people to feel like we’re not serving them,” she said.

If the person does qualify, a team works up a treatment plan where multiple providers work with the client to address different problems. One focus is teaching people skills like emotional regulation and self-care so they can overcome specific problems.

Northwest staffers also work on getting people help where they’re most comfortable, because that has been shown to work better.

Mercy Hospital — now CHI St. Alexius Williston — had a 10-bed in-patient behavioral health unit, but that has been closed for several years. In the health care survey, CHI was asked about the future.

CHI has looked at the space.

“This area was ‘earmarked’ for a possible inpatient psychiatric unit,” the response from CHI read. “CHI would provide the services if we could get help in the building costs.”

In the survey, the hospital also explained what it had been able to offer.

“CHI recruited a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner in January 2017, and worked with Psychiatry Network to provide tele-psychiatry services in the clinic,” the response reads. “In the Spring of 2018, Trinity Health recruited the (nurse practitioner) and that individual is still providing services in the community. Psychiatry Network ceased services in late 2018 due to staffing issues, but still was able to assist us with our patients in the ER and our inpatients.”

The in-patient beds would mean that if someone was in a crisis they would have somewhere local to stay.

“When we are not able to manage the people in the crisis unit, we (wouldn’t) have to send them out of town,” Ferrell said of more in-patient beds.

And needing in-patient psychiatric care is a major reason patients are transferred from CHI in Williston.

In 2018 and 2019, for example, there were 1,575 transfers, and 415 — 26% — were for psychiatric patients.

Another big gap in service in the area is there are few dedicated behavioral health providers who can prescribe medication. There are a lot of primary care physicians and there are counselors, but few prescribing health care providers.

That is where much help is needed, though.

“There is such a gap in the middle area of not being severe,” Ferrell said.

That means there might be few options for someone having a serious problem.

It’s a problem Williams County has been trying to address. This week, the County Commission OK’d $1 million in grants for behavioral health programs, with the money coming from the 1% public safety sales tax.

There have been discussions between Williston, Williams County and CHI St. Alexius about reopening in-patient beds for behavioral health at the hospital, but it didn’t work out.

“At the core of it, the Williston County Commission, over the past few years, has always wanted to do something to increase access to behavioral health services,” Lindsey Harriman, communications and research analyst for Williams County, told the Williston Herald.

With the failure of the effort to re-open the in-patient unit, the discussion has been centered around what can be done. The public safety sales tax seemed like an opportunity.

“By resolution, the commissioners are able to say public safety includes behavioral health,” Harriman said.

In April, the county is going to announce the grants.

There is help out there for people in crisis, though. Each of the state’s eight human services regions is creating a mobile response system for people in crisis, including a place where people can be stabilised.

“Right now, we’re recruiting staff for crisis response,” Ferrell said.

The local number is 701-577-9111 or 800-231-7724.

Another service people can access if they need immediate help is 211. The state has a contract with the service. When people call, there is a phone assessment and if the 211 worker can resolve the problem, the call ends, and if not, the person is referred to a local provider.

“It’s not just for human service center clients, it’s for everybody,” Ferrell said. “It really is for anybody to utilize.”

Warm weather creates quite the buzz
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As Spring weather brings some much-welcomed warmth to the area, creatures great and small and poking their heads out from their long winter slumbers.

Mitch Melberg • Williston Herald 

A honeybee from the hives of Oh Honey! Apiary enjoys a trip outside after a winter of being dormant.

Temperatures over the last week have been in the 40s and 50s, prompting some pint-sized pollinators to take a gander outside. Honeybees from Miranda Merritt’s Oh Honey! Apiary took to the sky for the first time since they began their cold-weather naps last fall. Bees from the main hive, led by Queen Bee Rex, have been staying warm inside their insulated hive for several months.

Mitch Melberg • Williston Herald 

A honeybee clings to a mirror as it ventures outside its hive to enjoy the warm weather.

Bee Rex’s is one of three hives at Oh Honey! Apiary, located northeast of Williston. The honeybees will spend some time enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures as it lasts before returning to the hive, emerging once again as flowers and other plant life begin to bloom.

Mitch Melberg • Williston Herald 

After a winter inside their hive, Oh Honey! Apiary's honeybees go exploring in the spring warmth.

To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/ohhoneyapiary.

Mitch Melberg • Williston Herald 

A pair of honeybees sun themselves outside their hive.

McVay's 'Giving Tree' shares positive messages from students and staff
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McVay Elementary has created a unique way to share positive messages with their students, taking a page right out of a book.

“We’re really big into building a family community within the school,” McVay Principal Tonya Brenner told the Williston Herald. “That ties in closely with our social-emotional learning focus, so a lot of that is building a family and community. We were trying to think of ways that the students could show compassion and kindness, and this was one idea we came up with.”

The idea is the Giving Tree, a whimsical tree painted by Stephanie Boone on a large wall along McVay’s main hallway. Much like the Giving Tree of Shel Silverstein’s famous book, McVay’s tree is meant to give students what they need: positivity. The tree itself is bare, the students and staff create the leaves themselves, based on a monthly theme. February was the first month for the tree, so naturally the leaves were made of hearts. But it’s not no much the leaves that are important, but the messages upon them.

Each leaf has a handwritten message from a student or staff member, sharing kind words, a positive message or just something that makes them feel good. As students walk down the hall they can stop and read the messages, with the hope that they will take some of the encouraging words to heart.

“This is a main thoroughfare for every kid in the school,” explained McVay librarian Terri Firth. “This way, they can read what other kids are saying, and share some thoughts of their own. It gives them an idea of what other kids are feeling, and that can help in a lot of positive ways.”

March has a St. Patrick’s Day theme, with shamrock leaves sharing what students feel lucky about. April’s tree will have raindrop leaves, with teachers and staff sharing why they enjoy working at the school. Firth said the tree has already helped students by showing that they are not alone, and that others may think or feel as they do, further encouraging the community feel, and giving students a sense of belonging.

“If we were all more community minded, I think that would be better for everyone,” Firth said. “Having feelings for other people, how you treat them and how they treat you are important things to learn. We want them to feel like they are a part of our school by creating that community, a place where they feel they belong.”

Decreasing COVID numbers prompt CIty to discontinue rapid testing
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The City of Williston announced it’s cancelling its BinaxNOW Rapid Antigen testing, which had been held on Mondays since the beginning of the year.

“With decreasing numbers and the existing PCR testing option, it was determined that the Monday BinaxNOW Rapid Antigen screenings will discontinue,” explained David Tuan, city administrator. “Citizens are encouraged to register for a vaccine if they have not already and to continue to utilize the ongoing PCR testing.”

As of Friday, March 5, the state has an 1.9 percent positivity rate, with 666 active cases and 95 new positive results. There have been 147,791 residents who have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 249,154 total vaccine doses administered.

The next Polymerase Chain Reaction testing offered by Upper Missouri District Health Unit will be held on Monday, March 8 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Art Wood building at Williston State College.

First-time testers are encouraged to pre-register at https://testreg.nd.gov/

In addition to testing, citizens are encouraged to register for the COVID-19 vaccine. Individuals that live in UMDHU’s service area; Divide, Williams, Mountrail, and McKenzie Counties; can register at vaccinereg.health.nd.gov

Interested individuals can also make a vaccine appointment at the following locations:

CHI St. Alexius 701-572-7651

Tioga Medical Center 701-664-3368

Trinity Health 701-572-7711

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COVID-19 vaccination by the numbers
  • Updated

Doses received statewide: 254,155

Doses administered statewide: 249,154

Residents who have gotten at least one dose: 147,791

Statewide rate for one dose: 20.1%

Statewide rate for two doses: 11.2%

Williams County rate for one dose: 10.7%

Williams County rate for two doses: 6.9%

Divide County rate for one dose: 22.3%

Divide County rate for two doses: 14.7%

McKenzie County rate for one dose: 13.9%

McKenzie County rate for two doses: 7.1%

Mountrail County rate for one dose: 26.1%

Mountrail County rate for two doses: 10.7%