A gap opens in rural mental health care

Bonnie Jean Megin
In a photo taken March 17, 2014, Bonnie Jean Megin held a friend's dog in Milaca, Minn., as she talked about the help she has gotten with bipolar disorder from Riverwood Centers.
Renee Jones Schneider/The Star Tribune via AP

A mental-health provider that served thousands of people in five counties shut down early this week, abruptly creating a gap in service to rural Minnesota.

Riverwood Centers operated clinics in Milaca, Cambridge, Mora, Braham, Pine City and North Branch. Kevin Wojahn, Riverwood's former executive director, told MPR News that the organization ran out of money:

"We've had three major changes in some of our funding, and the changes were large enough that we could not offset the reduction in funding with cuts to our operation," Wojahn said.

Most of Riverwood's funding came from clients' insurance providers as well as the counties where Riverwood operated, he said. Money has always been tight, but when Mille Lacs County ended its contract last year, things really got bad, he added.

Both through clinic visits and house calls, Riverwood was a safety net for people in crisis, as the Star Tribune reported:

The surprise announcement raises new concerns about gaps in the treatment of Minnesotans with mental illness at a time when communities across the state face an acute shortage of psychiatric services. A legislative report issued last month said hundreds of patients are cycling in and out of hospital emergency rooms and county jails because the state lacks psychiatric beds and mental health professionals, particularly in rural counties like the ones served by Riverwood.

In interviews Monday, clients said Riverwood was often the only resource that prevented them from ending up in a mental hospital or jail — or even committing suicide.

The nonprofit had a team of 20 employees who would visit clients in their homes, providing therapy and helping them adjust to life after being discharged from psychiatric facilities.

Riverwood was calling its former clients to give them referrals to other providers, but long-term questions remain about Minnesota's ability to care for citizens in need of mental health services. The Daily Circuit looks at what's ahead for Minnesotans who need the care facilities like these provide.

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