Mercer County gains mental health resources

Grant will support program to combat suicide, depression

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, announced a Rural Health Outreach Grant for the Mercer County Health Department from the Health Services and Resources Administration, a federal agency Wednesday morning.

The program will be paid for through a $560,471 grant awarded over a three-year period.

"I'm really proud of what they've done to recognize a need, and then come together to help with the funding for that need,” said Bustos.

FEDERAL FUNDING

Mercer County gains mental health resources

Grant will support program to combat suicide, depression

Cala Smoldt

Times Record

ALEDO — Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, announced a Rural Health Outreach Grant for the Mercer County Health Department from the Health Services and Resources Administration, a federal agency Wednesday morning.

Officials gathered at the Aledo Fire Station to detail how the Mercer County Mental Health Action Program can help residents.

The program will be paid for through a $560,471 grant awarded over a three-year period.

"I’m really proud of what they’ve done to recognize a need, and then come together to help with the funding for that need,” said Bustos.

As a member of both the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Agriculture Committee, Bustos has sponsored legislation to designate a rural health liaison at the United State Department of Agriculture and help rural residents better leverage USDA Rural Development programs to combat heroin and opioid use.

Aledo was the 14th stop on her tour of rural communities.

Jennifer Hamerlinck, supervisor of health promotions at the Mercer County Health Department, and Al Zwilling, Mercer Foundation for Health and Genesis Medical Center-Aledo, co-wrote the grant that made the program possible.

A group formed following a community health needs assessment completed in 2015 to discuss and plan ways to bridge the gap of needed services in the area.

Zwilling said the Community Health Needs Assessment Community Group looked at data and statistics of all the health issues in Mercer County and determined the county was lacking in mental health services, among other things.

He said that committee consists of about 20 individuals including interested citizens, not-for-profits, local business owners, law enforcement, healthcare, civic groups, school districts, counselors from the schools, board of health members all working in collaboration to bring needed services to Mercer County.

To be selected for the grant, “You had to have a history of working together. … It required integration of public health, health care systems, and community collaboration,” said Zwilling.

He thanked those in attendance who have diligently served in groups committed to meeting mental health needs in the county.

According to Hamerlinck the CDC reported the Mercer County suicide rate from 2011-2012 was 15.51 percent compared to the state rate of 8.77 percent, while the national rate was 11.57 percent, per 100,000 people.

“Our rate for our small area is very high,” Hamerlinck said. “Let’s just not talk about it anymore, let’s just really get down in the dirt.”

“Over a three- to five-year period we hope to decrease suicide rates and depression statistics in Mercer County, improve access to mental health care, decrease those delays in service and resolve problems that act as a roadblock to mental health care and expand our available resources,” she said.

The program includes hiring a licensed clinical social worker and a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at Genesis Medical Health Center-Aledo.

She said they will take a holistic approach, using a “nurse navigator model” to address all needs surrounding obtaining care; including driving a patient to and from appointments, finding gas cards or food vouchers, and health insurance counseling services.

“HRSA awarded 25 outreach grants; 11 were focused on mental health, and only one uses a navigator model, that’s ours,” Hamerlinck said.

She said the program is a form of case management that allows the nurse, staff from the health department and clinic to identify any barriers people face to receiving mental health care — and to bring resolution.

Hamerlinck introduced Kristina Dixon, Aledo, hired to serve as the nurse navigator for the program.

Dixon said she is excited to be apart of the program.

“Mental health is a huge problem in rural communities and this program is unprecedented,” Dixon said.

A Mercer County native, she grew up in Keithsburg and attended Westmer schools, then moved to Aledo her sophomore year of high school and graduated with the last class of Aledo Green Dragons in 2005.

She has two children and siblings who attend Mercer County schools.

“I see the problems we have and I’d like to be part of the solution,” said Dixon.

Genesis Medical Center-Aledo Administrator Ted Rogalski said the assessment opened their eyes to the local need for mental health services. Since 2015 they have added a full-time licensed clinical social worker, a part-time psychiatrist and a full-time psychiatric nurse practitioner.

He said his colleagues are jealous of the county.

“We are truly blessed in a community this size to have those resources,” Rogalski said.

During the forum, Apollo Elementary Principal Bill Fleuette asked the panel if the program will address the shortage of pediatric mental health workers.

Rogalski said, “Our providers will treat kids down to about 8 to 12 years old ... but it’s still a missing component.”

He said there are resources with the Crisis Center to get younger children connected to resources.

Aledo Police Chief Christopher Sullivan said law enforcement departments will work in conjunction with the Health Department, Mercer Foundation for Health and Genesis Health System.

"It's a fantastic opportunity for the county," Sullivan said.

He said it's difficult for people to take trips to the Quad Cities to seek mental health services.

"There are people who do not understand how or where to seek mental health treatment and when people are in a mental health crisis there's nowhere to turn but the police department,” Sullivan said.

"(The program) will be of great assistance to the law enforcement throughout the county," he said. "We (Police) are not medical or mental health professionals and there is no other medical issue that anyone would refer to the police department and anticipate that we might either cure, or that we would stick you in a jail cell and you would cure yourself from having.”

Anyone can refer someone for help. Contact the Mercer County Health Department, 305 NW 7th St., at (309) 582-3759