Wahkiakum County's mental health program offers variety of services
January 5, 2023
According to the county website, the mission of Wahkiakum Heath and Human Services is to “enhance the health and well-being of Wahkiakum County by providing effective health and human services and by fostering and implementing sound, sustained advances in the sciences underlying medicine, public health, and social services.”
One of the ways they seek to enhance the health and well-being of the community is through their mental health department.
Duncan Cruickshank, who is in charge of the department, says that mental health currently has three therapists available, having recently added one to their team, and it also administers a separate program designed to assist people struggling with substance use.
“I think we’re doing okay,” Cruickshank said. “Staffing wise, I guess as a profession, mental health in public is a fair amount of case management and peer work also, who are not mental health professionals but help people with simple things like ‘Have you taken your medication?’ Or ‘You know you have a doctor’s appointment?’ Whatever is needed helping people out.”
“A peer is someone with a lived experience,” he continued. “They can speak the language. I think it’s a really nice addition. It’s innovative. The state is pushing peers, but we’ve had them for a while. I’m sure others have too. They can usually get to [people] more often and help [them] through the harder times.”
Cruickshank hopes that some of the people aided today by the mental health department and peers will pay it forward in the community and return one day to say, that person helped me. I’d like to do the same thing.
People wanting to talk to someone come to the department on their own or they show up because of a referral through another agency, whether it’s law enforcement, the school district, parents, or the doctor’s office.
“We have people who walk through the door or call,” Cruickshank said. “We get some referrals. There is a program called Recovery Manager, which is run by Great Rivers Behavioral Health in Longview. That’s a program where if the police encounters, say, somebody struggling with addiction. Let’s say they get a welfare check for a guy living in the park. They can go see that person and refer them to the Recovery Manager program if it’s mental illness or addiction that’s caused them to be there without arresting them. Not putting them in jail is the goal.”
The department doesn’t get many referrals, but for a small county, even a little can feel like a lot, which was certainly the case when they were still responding to crisis calls.
“It was almost impossible,” Cruickshank said. “When you have two mental health professionals, and they are covering something 24/7, that means that every day they are on call, or it’s the day after they were on call. It is now done by Columbia Wellness. We’ll get referrals from them, or if someone calls us and is in crisis, we will refer to them.”
Regardless of how clients come, the department wants to help. Oftentimes the biggest barrier is insurance, which is required.
They see people of all ages, from very young children on up, for a variety of reasons. Along with the three therapists and the peers, the department also has a telehealth nurse practitioner who does adult care and a child psychiatrist. Both can prescribe, and they help local residents get the medication they need and visit with them to adjust doses when it is necessary.
“Those are great services,” Cruickshank said. “The child psychiatry is a big deal for a rural set up.”
Last year, the department received a grant for a program done in partnership with the Child and Adolescent Clinic in Longview, according to Cruickshank. The program, which he described as “innovative,” is “targeted at kids who are having a hard time getting services for whatever reason. Perhaps they are undiagnosed. We have not had a large volume of people in that program, but it has been successful for some of the people we’ve had.”
Privacy is really important, especially in a small town.
“I’m really proud of this fact,” Cruickshank said. “I have no idea who our clients are by design.”
He’s also clearly proud of his staff, including reception, where people are made to feel comfortable and welcome on the phone and in person.
“That alone to me, when you call there and get this reassuring welcoming response from people,” Cruickshank said, “that alone is worth something on a community level, and I think we do a good job of that too. I think we do a good job of caring about people that come through the front door.”
“There is no judgement,” Cruickshank said. “You call us, you want some help, we’ll figure out a way to help you.”