News Article Details

LSS shutters mental health services

Daily Telegram - 3/17/2017

March 17--Since it opened in 1973, outpatient mental health services have been at the core of Lutheran Social Services'Superior office. Those services end next week for their roughly 115 clients.

"This was not an easy decision," said Signa Meyers, director of wellness for Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. "For years, we've been operating at a loss, but maintained the program because mental health needs of Douglas County residents were important to our mission, and still are."

Superior supervisor Wendy Morris said they are trying to connect their clients, the majority of whom are on Medicaid, to other local resources. Those include Human Development Center, Creative Counseling Group LLC and Lake Superior Community Health Center, all in Superior.

"While we know change is hard, we feel confident that the Superior community will rise to the occasion and have good, quality resources for all to access," Meyers said.

LSS therapist John Ball will be moving to Creative Counseling, along with his clients.

"We're looking forward to helping ease the transition of clients from LSS to our facility," said Creative Counseling Group owner and therapist, Donald Mattson.

He said the office has grown quickly since it was opened a year and a half ago.

"We are expanding," Mattson said. "We will try to help with the transition as best we can."

A new therapist just started at HDC this week, and the nonprofit has openings.

"We are poised to not just continue, but expand," said Betsy Byler, outpatient and youth treatment manager with HDC. "We are looking for ways to do that, change and grow.

"We can't wait for Madison to catch up."

LSS and HDC have been working together for decades. Byler said she was disheartened by the news that LSS would shutter its mental health services, but not surprised. State Medicaid reimbursement rates are 20 years out of date, she said. While Minnesota just raised their Medicaid rates for mental health services to $98 per hour, Wisconsin remains stuck at $55.

That leaves non-profits like HDC, where about 95 percent of clients are on Medicaid, strapped for cash.

"In a perfect world, I lose $13,000 per year per therapist," Byler said. "There's no way that's sustainable."

But that's what Wisconsin providers are up against.

"The community itself will keep losing therapists," Byler said. "LSS is not the first to go. It won't be the last."

Meyers said since it opened, LSS has relied on generous contributions of churches, United Way and other benefactors at the state and local level to support the mental health program.

"Their support was pivotal in the continuation of our operations," she said. "We thank them for their generosity and want them to know how important their contributions were in helping LSS for over 40 years."

Morris said the last day LSS therapists will see clients is March 24. The office at 33 N. 25th St. E. by the Challenge Center will close down April 7, leaving two therapists and one office worker unemployed.

"It's a layoff," Morris said. "We're in the job market again."

LSS will continue to provide financial counseling and special needs adoption services in Superior. A new location for them as not been determined, but the phone number will remain (715) 394-4173.

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(c)2017 the Superior Telegram (Superior, Wis.)

Visit the Superior Telegram (Superior, Wis.) at www.superiortelegram.com

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