News Article Details

New center to boost mental health services

The Rapid City Journal - 12/25/2017

The Community Health Center of the Black Hills at 350 Pine St. has a fresh, modern look and feel. But wander down a long, narrow hallway toward the administrative offices and open a nondescript door to your left and you'll happen across the lone remaining unfinished area of the two-year-old building.

The "sandbox," as the center's CEO Tim Trithart called it on Thursday afternoon, contains little more than a smattering of tools and work stations atop a soft, spongy dirt floor. By next autumn, though, Trithart hopes to transform the 3,000-square-foot space into a mental health center for the more than 14,000 patients who walk through the center's doors each year.

Last week, the Rapid City Council authorized Mayor Steve Allender and Finance Department Director Pauline Sumption to sign an agreement that will see the city contribute about $520,000 from its Vision Fund toward design and construction of the space. The funding was initially approved in December 2016.

The center's development and impending construction serves as a bright spot of news in an area of health care that has had little of late, with the lack of accessible, quality mental health care in western South Dakota further exacerbated by policy changes by Rapid City Regional Hospital in February limiting the treatment of behavioral health patients.

Last month, former state representative Al Scovel said South Dakota has treated the state's mentally with "abject neglect." The closest state run mental health facility is in Yankton, about 350 miles away.

For Trithart's organization, incorporating mental health care into his organization is a logical extension of the current services offered, which include primary, pediatric, adult and dental care, along with the recent introduction of a pharmacy. About 20 percent of the patients served at the center have some mental health diagnosis and most of the people they serve could be categorized as "working poor," Trithart said.

"It's just another step in terms of us taking care of the whole person," he said, adding that according to the most recent study he'd seen, about 50 percent of mental health conditions get treated by family practice providers. By creating this space, Trithart hopes to get those patients in front of more qualified practitioners.

Though funding is always a challenge - especially as the federal grant monies supporting the center remain in limbo as Congress tries to keep the government funded and avoid another shutdown - the real challenge for Trithart will be finding staff.

Recently, the center received a grant to hire an "integrated mental health social worker" who will work with people with mental health diagnoses as well as opioid issues. Trithart must find someone qualified for that position and four other full-time employees to staff the new center. He also continues to search for someone to join their pharmacy who is qualified and skilled at prescribing mental health drugs to patients.

Once the center is constructed and staffed, Trithart says it will help his approximately 85 staff members treat the causes of their patient's symptoms a bit better rather than simply addressing the symptoms that may be caused by an underlying mental health issue.

"Our goal," Trithart said, "is to basically get a little further upstream."


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