Woodland Centers: A CCBHC + innovaTel Success Story

August 29, 2023 | CCBHC | Partnership Spotlight | Resources

The transition period that comes with the CCBHC designation process can be a tricky one. Woodland Centers in Minnesota, which had operated as a Community Mental Health Clinic before becoming a Certified Community Behavioral Health Center (CCBHC) in 2022, can attest to that. 


But one variable that made the process less challenging was a staffing decision to onboard a Medical Director before they officially earned the designation. Even though adding a Medical Director to the team would have been required with the designation eventually, having one available to help navigate and negotiate the changes taking place proved invaluable. 


“For me, it felt like I needed someone who understands the work and understands the role,” Dr. Ashley Kjos, Woodland Centers CEO, said. “We just had that need, so CCBHC or not, we knew we had to have a Medical Director.” 


innovaTel Telepsychiatry’s Dr. Veronica Harsh, a psychiatrist and Medical Director, filled that role in late 2019, settling into her remote position right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


“For us, it was helpful because we spent so much time just figuring out the role, and the pandemic happened and it showed us where she could fit,” Kjos said. “Having a Medical Director in advance and finding out how to benefit from it before you’re a CCBHC — because it all shifts in a new healthcare model — it helps to make that shift not so hard because you’re already thinking about things medically and whole healthwise. Becoming a CCBHC is like taking an agency and flipping it on its head.”


Woodland Centers is one of Minnesota’s oldest mental health centers, serving patients from “womb to tomb” across 60 counties, with physical locations in seven. Upwards of three-quarters of the center’s patient population relies on Medicaid, and the center’s service area covers roughly 5,000 square, rural miles. 


“As a mental health center, we struggled every year just to keep the doors open. Medicaid doesn’t cover the cost to provide care, but when you become a CCBHC, it sure does,” Kjos said. “It gives us the ability to provide good services and care and start to be innovative because we have room to think outside the box.” 


By offering services that include psychiatry, therapy, peer support, mobile crisis, detox, substance use programming, community support and supportive housing, Woodland Centers as a CCBHC is now able to receive reimbursement for the time spent on previously non-billable services.


“It’s made a huge difference. Expanding our services and requiring MAT services was a push for us – to good effect,” Harsh said of Woodland Centers. “We want to provide those life-saving treatments to those in the community. The CCBHC designation said this is important and it’s required.”


Another requirement of CCBHC designation is that patients need to receive a comprehensive evaluation within 10 days of first making contact with the clinic. Between 2017 and 2019, Kjos said it took Woodland Centers about three months to complete that evaluation. 


Once Woodland Centers added five innovaTel providers to handle this task on a full-time basis, the no-show rate improved and patients were able to be seen the same day they first make contact with the clinic. 


“This model helped us increase access to services. We couldn’t have hired that staff internally ourselves to do comp evals all day long, but innovatel helped us find them,” Kjos said, while lamenting the struggle of finding in-person staff locally. “We needed providers. Rural Minnesota? You don’t have to live here to work here, and now we can get those services to people.” 


Looking ahead, Woodland Centers is implementing new, creative partnerships to support preventative care while also improving their use of data and finding ways to implement AI to support documentation. And with the CCBHC designation behind them, they can look back and see what worked best for them.


“It’s a beast. One domino leads to another domino,” Kjos said. “You need a team to support you through the change process. Planning early and starting early was key. It just takes time and the more people who can implement changes before you’re certified, the better.” 


To learn more about the success experienced at Woodland Centers, register for our upcoming webinar in partnership with the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and hear from Dr. Kjos and Dr. Harsh directly about the innovaTel partnership and their CCBHC journey. You can also learn more by downloading our recent success story featuring Woodland Centers

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