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Chatter Pediatric was among programs visiting the Williams County Commission on Tuesday to talk about the difference their behavioral health grants are making in the region.

Williams County’s behavioral health grants are having ripple effects throughout the region, and opening up once unknown access to psychiatric medicines and other mental health needs.

All of the behavioral health grant recipients are required to file progress reports at the six-month mark. For some, it wasn’t enough to fill out a form or send an email. They needed to come in person, to both share their excitement for what they’ve been able to do with the money, and express their gratitude.

Katie Shannon with ConnectUs Therapy was able to close on a new building in May. That building is still being renovated and a move-in date is still a few weeks away, but once complete it will have eight offices, a conference room, and a reception and waiting area.

That space may not yet be inhabited, but just having something affordable locked down enabled her to hire two, full-time nurse practitioners, who have already begun to assess and prescribe medications in Williams County.

“I want to emphasize how significant an asset these women are to our mental health community,” Shannon said. “There isn’t a week that goes by that I do not get a call or a message about how wonderful they are, and how much they have helped someone that month.”

Their work is a giant leap when it comes to medication management in the region, Shannon said.

“Before, it was very difficult. You would have to go to your primary physician. They did not specialize in psychiatric medication. Currently, we have Northwest Human Service Center in this region and one part-time psychiatric nurse practitioner at Trinity, and that is all that we have,” she said. “And now we have two full-time psychiatric providers who provide only psychiatric medications. And so the accessibility for those services which are significant is a huge impact. And that was all due to the space and the confidence that you gave ConnectUs Therapy for hiring staff and entrusting us with those funds.”

Both nurse practitioners will soon be able to accept Medicaid and Medicare, which the center previously couldn’t accept, and that is yet another way in which the grant is opening access to mental health care for more people.

Shannon has also added three mental health counselors for outpatient services in Williams County, bringing the total available for ConnectUs Therapy to eight. The new staff have already worked with 258 people, bringing the total number served by her program to 752.

“We look forward to honoring the spirit of the grant that was made possible by this space,” Shannon said. “I want you to also know that because of this expansion, there have been opportunities that have the possibility of fostering more mental health providers in this community.”

The impact doesn’t end there, however. Funds were also used to host a Conscious Discipline training for 150 for paraprofessionals in Williams County and surrounding areas. The training is for adults who work with youths, to give them a set of trauma-informed skills and strategies that help kids increase self regulation and their sense of safety and connection.

“School staff is often the first line of defense for our youth and responding to childhood adversities and often the most impactful,” Shannon said. “We are grateful that Williston Public Seven and the surrounding communities continue to work with us in that way and we’re grateful for all of our teachers who continue to be there for us every day.”

Free support groups are also being offered at three different schools and, in September, a Suicide Prevention Awareness Campaign was held to help area youths understand steps they can take to help others who may be at risk of self harm.

Last, but certainly not least, a program was begun to help first responders get connected therapy free of cost. That program is already helping 19 first responders from throughout the county.

Katie Kringen with Chatter Pediatric, meanwhile, said she knew she was shooting for the stars when she wrote her grant, and that she is so grateful to have been chosen as one of the recipients.

She’s hired a clinical psychologist with 27 years of experience in treating children and adolescents for a variety of mental health and behavioral problems, and she’s hired a male counselor to round out her staff, so people can now choose to work with either a male or a female counselor, whichever they feel most comfortable with.

“Now that we have more therapists, and we are working a little bit longer hours, families are able to come choose who they want to see, and kids are able to get the therapy and now parents are also able to get therapy at the same time,” she said. “So it’s really amazing what we’re doing over there and how many families we get to help.”

She’s also talking with Tioga about expanding Chatter Pediatric Services, and said Chatter is now officially in Ray, working through the schools to provide education for fifth grade through high school seniors, and even doing some private counseling when needed.

“It’s always still a work in progress,” she said. “And we’re always trying to keep increasing and helping the families in western North Dakota and Williams County. So I just really want to say thank you. I am super grateful for that grant, and we’re going to keep chugging along and helping a lot of families.”

Williams County Commissioner David Montgomery pointed out that it generally takes a million dollars to pave a mile of road. But, he added, the number of people affected by paving 2 miles of road doesn’t begin to compare to the number of people who have been helped by these $2 million in behavioral health grants the county has given.

“Kudos to you all,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to continue to do this in the future.”

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