Health official seeks to increase access to behavioral health in rural area

FESSENDEN – Limited access to behavioral health services is a problem across North Dakota, but it is particularly acute in the rural areas.

Brittany Long, nurse administrator of the Wells County District Health Unit in Fessenden, is among the state’s public health officials who are seeking solutions.

Long will join three other public health officials from North Dakota in attending the 2018 National Council for Behavioral Health Conference in Washington, D.C., next April. Long is among 40 people from across the country chosen for behavioral health fellowships, which include engagement in webinars and teleconferences prior to the conference. Long will be in Washington from April 22 to 28.

Long said her hope is that technical training assistance through the fellowship will disclose new avenues for addressing behavioral health concerns in Wells County. She will complete a graduate program as a psychiatric nurse practitioner next May and plans to utilize her training to provide counseling, medical management and referrals through the public health unit.

“We do lack providers in North Dakota,” Long said, noting it is particularly difficult for people in rural areas who have to leave the community to receive care.

“They might not have the funds or the means to be able to travel for those treatments,” she said.

There also are collaborative actions the health unit can take with other agencies to assist people who need mental health or substance abuse treatment, Long said.

Through grants, local public health units are addressing underage alcohol use and binge drinking, tobacco use and opioid addiction. Long foresees the opportunity to expand on educational efforts currently being delivered by the public health unit in local schools.

“Because public health already has so many different outreaches, this is just another program that I think could easily be done through public health in the rural area, and we are very good at collaborating with other agencies and entities,” she said.

Other health units in the state also are working on increasing behavioral health services, from partnering with a local psychiatrist in Dickinson to providing social detoxification at the Grand Forks Withdrawal Management Center.

“We are, all across the state, looking for ways we can help be a solution because there’s so many gaps,” Long said. “We are looking at ‘How can we be part of closing that gap?'”