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ND takes new approach to behavioral health

BISMARCK – Significant changes are coming to prevention efforts and recovery supports in North Dakota with the state’s latest investment in behavioral health services.

Many of those changes and improvements will be discussed at the 2019 North Dakota Behavioral Health Conference, scheduled for Wednesday through Thursday in the Bismarck Event Center. A post-conference event also will be held Friday.

The 2019 Legislature made biennium investments that included $4 million in community-based supports and $300,000 in a mental health promotion program.

“For the first time, we have state funding to develop a mental illness prevention, or mental health promotion, program. In North Dakota, we’ve never had state funding to invest in that type of a program,” said Pam Sagness, director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services’ Behavioral Health Division. “So we’re really excited to be developing that right now.”

The Legislature also doubled the previous biennium’s funding for the Parents Lead prevention program to $200,000 and provided for behavioral health prevention in schools.

Sagness said state investments were based on work done since 2014 to identify three key strategies to address North Dakota’s behavioral health needs.

“The first is that we needed to support the full continuum,” she said. “We need to have prevention services available because whenever you can prevent, that’s best. We need to have early intervention services available because if you can intervene before somebody has a full diagnosis or is really in the middle of the illness, that’s what’s best. We need to have treatment available and accessible for people who do need treatment, and then lastly, we need to have recovery services.”

The second strategy highlighted the demand for community-based services.

In community-based care, a change is on the horizon with the drafting of a proposed plan amendment to Medicaid, which would bring additional support services to individuals with addiction or mental illness. Sagness said the amendment would allow reimbursement for housing, employment and certain transportation supports. Medicaid dollars could fund help with daily living skills.

Other legislative actions responded to the third strategy of reducing criminal justice involvement. The Legislature continued Free Through Recovery, which targets community treatment services to incarcerated individuals, and allowed expansion of the program to divert people not yet sentenced and prevent others from slipping into the criminal justice system.

Improvements in behavioral health services are coming from more than increased state investment, though.

“We found places where we could actually take the money we already had but use it in a way that would produce better outcomes or reduce barriers,” Sagness said. For example, changing licensing requirements to every three years instead of every two reduces administrative and regulatory costs without altering quality.

Christopher Jones, director of the state Department of Human Services, and Sagness, along with five legislators, will be presenting on state program changes during the first day of the behavioral health conference. There also will be breakout sessions during the conference regarding some of the programs. Kirsten Baesler, state superintendent of public instruction, will discuss the partnership between education and the Behavioral Health Division on day two.

Keynote speakers are:

– Dan Nevins, a highly decorated soldier who was severely injured during combat in Iraq in 2004 – losing both his legs below the knee and living with a traumatic brain injury and the emotional wounds of war. He opens the conference with his message of perseverance, resiliency and hope. He will lead a yoga class over lunch.

– Kevin Hines, a best-selling author, global public speaker and award-winning documentary filmmaker, who attempted to take his life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000. He will share his story of hope, healing and recovery while teaching people about the art of wellness.

– Dr. Melinda Moore, a licensed psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University. She will explore national trends in addressing suicide prevention and integrating suicide prevention into clinical practice.

– Ryan Sallans, a renowned transgender speaker and author specializing in health care and workplace issues impacting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning community, who will discuss minority stress and LGBTQ identities.

– Jeffon Seely, a senior consultant and workshop facilitator, speaking about workplace wellness and mindfulness.

The first day’s events close with a reception at which attendees can connect with Gov. Doug Burgum and First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, legislators and policy leaders within the Human Service Department.

The conference is open to consumers and the general public. Sagness said the conference will include areas of public interest, such as a workshop on the basics of psychiatric medicines and a vendor show that includes the anti-opioid Naloxone giveaway and training.

“A lot of the work that we’re doing impacts everyone, whether you’re a consumer, whether you’re a peer support specialist or whether you’re an administrator of a program,” Sagness said.

People interested in attending the behavioral health conference can register up to the time of the event. Walk-in registrations will be accepted. About 500 people had already pre-registered as of this week, Sagness said.

There is a fee for attendees who are not state employees. For information or to register, go to behavioralhealth.nd.gov/conference or to ndhealth on Facebook or NorthDakotaBH on Twitter.

Fees are reduced for peer support specialists, who are a primary audience of the conference. The specialists will be able to obtain education credits toward a new certification that is expected to be implemented by next July 1.

The Behavioral Health Division will hold a public meeting Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Bismarck Event Center, Prairie Rose Room 101, to take input on the development of the state’s peer support specialist certification process.

Individuals unable to attend the public input meeting can submit comments until 5 p.m. on Nov. 22 to Nicole Berman at the Department of Human Services, Behavioral Health Division, 1237 W. Divide Ave., Bismarck, ND 58501, nberman@nd.gov, or 328-8949, 711 (TTY). Anyone who needs a disability accommodation to participate in the public meeting should also contact Berman.

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