Partner Spotlight: Central Minnesota Mental Health Center

June 16, 2021 | Partnership Spotlight

Since it began in 1959, Central Minnesota Mental Health Center (CMMHC) has navigated change. It opened its doors at a time when mental health care was being deinstitutionalized, and decades later, it is evolving to meet changing needs in new ways — most notably with its pursuit of CCBHC designation.


And innovaTel has been a partner along the way, providing support configured to CMMHC’s specific and evolving needs. innovaTel’s partnership with CMMHC originally started with one part-time psychiatrist and has evolved to include a team of multiple innovaTel providers, including a Medical Director and psychiatric nurse practitioners who cover outpatient, detox and CMMHC’s crisis residential unit. innovaTel has also provided guidance in the development of CMMHC’s MAT program by providing a board certified addiction psychiatrist as they pursue a CCBHC designation.  


We recently connected with CMMHC’s Executive Director, Rick Lee, and he shared details of the organization’s experience over the years, knowing it may sound familiar to behavioral healthcare leaders in the field.


Q: What is Central Minnesota Mental Health Center? What does your practice offer?

A: Over its 60 years, CMMHC has evolved into being one of the largest and most comprehensive mental health centers in Minnesota.  We offer a broad spectrum of mental health and SUD services across the lifespan, both clinic and community based, as well as residential and non-residential services, ranging from outpatient behavioral health including psychiatry, psychotherapy, school-based, SUD, rehabilitative, (residential, mobile and co-responder), assertive community treatment, case management and more.


Q: Can you describe your service area?

A: CMMHC has a physical presence in four counties in Central Minnesota, though we are not limited to serving residents of those counties. Although COVID suppressed overall demand (though not necessarily need) in 2020, in a typical year we serve 10,000+ unduplicated individuals in all our programs. Approximately 75% of our clientele are Medicaid eligible. We have a robust capacity to serve very young children (0-5 years old), and our school-linked services are available in 40+ school buildings across 17 school districts, reaching children and families where they are. Overwhelmingly, CMMHC serves adults with serious or serious and persistent mental illness, substance use disorders (and often both), and children with mental health conditions. CMMHC provides many thousands of services each year to people outside of the clinic and in community settings.


Q: What are your biggest challenges as an organization?

A: Historically, mental health services have been woefully underfunded and financial viability has always been the greatest challenge. Nonprofits like CMMHC have struggled to compete with private practice, large health systems with deeper pockets and government agencies. For the first time in decades, that is starting to change. Like with many employers, and many types of employers across the country, we are very challenged in recruiting people at all levels of the organization. This is especially concerning at a time (post-pandemic) when demand for mental health and SUD services is skyrocketing.


Q: Can you describe how your partnership with InnovaTel has evolved over time?

A: In the beginning, innovaTel’s presence at CMMHC was perhaps to augment existing agency psychiatry providers, but over time as clinic based providers retired or left, the InnovaTel footprint has expanded at CMMHC and now includes them providing Medical Director duties as well as On-call duties for a couple of our residential programs. With the Medical Director duties, Dr. Eberly monitors coding patterns and is able to coach/intervene as needed if there appear to be anomalous patterns. innovaTel is without exception a great partner which keeps the mental health center’s success – financially and quality of care – at the forefront.


Q: How is innovaTel’s support helping you achieve a CCBHC designation?

A: innovaTel has again demonstrated its spirit of partnership and commitment to community mental health by being a robust partner in CMMHC’s evolution to CCBHC designation. They are able to bring their experience with other CCBHCs to the table, which has also been invaluable.


Q: What impact has this telepsychiatry partnership made on your organization?

A: Nothing but positive. Recruitment and retention of psychiatrist and psychiatric NPs is a decades-long struggle which never really wanes, and historically it has been especially acute with community mental health. innovaTel takes that headache away almost completely. There is zero possibility that CMMHC would have the psychiatry footprint it now enjoys without the partnership with innovaTel.


Q: What have you heard from providers? Patients?

A: As the CEO, I do not hear any negativity about telepsychiatry at all from providers. None. In the past, when telepsychiatry was relatively new, I would hear skepticism about it being an inadequate substitute for in-person services. Now, crickets.


Q: Do you feel like your use of telepsychiatry is helping your community? How?

A: Helping? No doubt. Why? One word: Access. Even if someone is skeptical, the innovaTel model of setting up the office environment quickly dispels concerns. There is no meaningful difference with the actual encounter with a telepsychiatry provider compared to an in-person provider.


Q: What is next for you and how valuable is it that innovaTel can grow with you?

A: Our biggest concern about achieving CCBHC designation was the mandate to provide Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for outpatient withdrawal management. Pre-pandemic, buprenorphine prescribing was not permitted across state lines, so innovaTel could not be the prescriber. The pandemic waivers have opened a door for us to partner with innovaTel to demonstrate that providing MAT via telehealth can be done safely and effectively. We are very excited about this project and have no doubt at all that we could be part of an early cohort demonstrating this exact thing.


As a CCBHC, we expect to grow, perhaps even substantially, and CMMHC will definitely be engaging with innovaTel to similarly grow its footprint with us.

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