Alaska’s Mental and Behavioral Health Providers
Promoting Wellness for Consumers of All Ages
The main reception area for Providence Medical Group Behavioral Health, located at 3760 Piper Street in Anchorage.
Photo courtesy of Providence Health & Services Alaska
Mental illnesses have a major impact on individuals and society as a whole. The annual direct and indirect economic cost of mental illness in the United States is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Mental illness lowers individuals’ productivity and income; raises healthcare costs for other illnesses; and increases addiction, homelessness, and disability rates.
Fortunately, many forms of mental illness are treatable, and Alaskans can find help through any of the mental health and behavioral health (relating to substance abuse and other addictions) providers and facilitators covered in this article.
Providence Health & Services Alaska
Providence Health & Services Alaska, Behavioral Health offers numerous outpatient and inpatient mental health services for children, adolescents, and adults. “That continuum allows patients to feel very cared for because they know there is something for them on either side [inpatient as well as outpatient],” says Renee Rafferty, MS, LPC, director of behavioral health services.
Providence’s vast service lines use a trauma-informed approach that focuses on how emotional forces impact behavior. Providence specializes in treating trauma through its adolescent inpatient and residential programs. The Providence Adolescent Residential Treatment Program, for instance, provides long-term psychiatric treatment for twelve to eighteen year old girls in Anchorage and Palmer.
Program participants receive group and individual care as well as treatment for their entire family. “The program allows them to heal from complex trauma,” Rafferty says. “It’s pretty amazing.”
There are also mental health services available through inpatient programs within Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. For example, the Discovery Unit-Adolescent Inpatient Mental Health program is an acute program for thirteen- to eighteen-year-olds who need intensive crisis intervention, stabilization, and behavioral health treatment. The unit provides a safe and therapeutic environment for adolescents experiencing a crisis.
Providence also has a crisis intervention program that provides twenty-four-hour care, along with the Providence Recovery Center in Anchorage on the Providence campus. The center—for individuals age twelve and older—is a sub-acute voluntary behavioral health facility that focuses on helping individuals effectively manage psychiatric symptoms to prevent unnecessary tragedy or frequent hospitalization.
Additionally, Providence offers a range of outpatient mental health services, including diagnostic interviews, medication management, neuropsychological and psychological testing, and individual and group therapy. It also provides substance abuse assistance for adults at the Breakthrough program, which endorses the medical model of addiction and supports the 12 Step process of recovery. Using a team-based, client-centered approach, Breakthrough gives adults in Anchorage access to substance abuse treatment, partial hospitalization, and relapse prevention programs.
Adults who need critical care in Anchorage can utilize the psychiatric emergency department within Providence Alaska Medical Center. And unlike most outpatient mental health providers, Providence treats Medicaid patients. The demand for these services is tremendous, Rafferty says. “We have expanded our services and still have not been able to meet the community need,” she adds.
Southcentral Foundation is an Alaska Native-owned, nonprofit healthcare organization that offers a wide range of health and wellness services for about sixty-five thousand Alaska Natives and American Indians living in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and regionally. It provides regional support to residents of fifty-five rural villages in the Anchorage Service Unit, which stretches 107,400 square miles across Southcentral Alaska. In addition to serving as the regional tribal health organization, Southcentral Foundation co-manages the Alaska Native Medical Center campus in Anchorage with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Southcentral Foundation is CIRI’s largest nonprofit.
Southcentral Foundation has a robust tribal health system that encompasses physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness, according to April Kyle, vice president of behavioral services for Southcentral Foundation. Customer ownership is one of the key tenets on which the system is built. “Our healthcare system is owned by Alaska Native people,” Kyle says. “We designed our system to put Alaska Natives in the driver’s seat, informing, organizing, and driving our organization.”
The goal of Southcentral Foundation is to be a partner and build a relationship between each care team member, each employee, and the family. Since relationships are at the core of how well services are delivered, the system’s primary care model includes an integrated care team typically comprised of a provider, nurse, CMA, and master’s level therapist. In addition, Southcentral Foundation has co-located psychiatry services in the primary care system. It also offers same-day access to behaviorists. “Southcentral Foundation rethinks the definition of ‘primary care’ to be inclusive of both physical and behavioral wellness,” Kyle says. “All of us need a balance of physical, emotional, and mental health services.”
The system has behaviorists available to work directly with families on a one-time basis or through a series of appointments. Behaviorists can provide brief intervention work or refer customers to an array of specialists for in-depth assistance. Services include an outpatient therapy department for children and adults; residential and outpatient substance abuse treatment programs; detox management; outpatient and residential treatment for youth; and Quanna Club house for adults. In addition to behavioral health services, Southcentral Foundation offers the Family Wellness Warrior Initiative. This unique program aims to end domestic violence, abuse, and neglect by creating a space where people with shared experiences can come together and share insights. Family Wellness Warrior Initiative incorporates a concept called Learning Circles, which provide a safe, healing environment where individuals build relationships, share feelings, and learn from others who are on a similar journey. Learning Circles are walk-in sessions open to anyone who is interested—without an appointment. There are currently more than ninety Learning Circles, which cover a broad range of topics.
Innovative offerings like open Learning Circles support Southcentral Foundation’s effort to make each family the owner of their own journey of wellness. “Southcentral Foundation will always be in the business of redesigning wellness by putting the customer-owner in the leadership position,” Kyle says. “We will always be rethinking and redesigning to meet the needs of our customer-owners.”
The Alaska Child Trauma Center’s Little Tykes playground was built in 2015 thanks to fundraising efforts.
Photo courtesy Anchorage Community Mental Health Services
Anchorage Community Mental Health Services
Anchorage Community Mental Health Services (ACMHS) has been serving the state of Alaska since 1974. ACMHS focuses on promoting recovery and wellness by providing consumer-driven behavioral healthcare services in Anchorage and Fairbanks, where it also provides twenty-four-hour emergency services. Its overriding goal is to let consumers determine their own healthcare and path to the road to recovery. “Our job is not to run people’s lives, but to give them the options and let them choose,” explains CEO Jerry Jenkins. “I should be given the options because it’s my life.”
Each year, ACMHS serves about 1,600 consumers in Anchorage and 500 in Fairbanks. Children make up about a third of the individuals served. ACMHS’s services are intended to focus on helping people with the direst needs.
ACMHS is a trauma-informed and trauma-treatment capable organization that provides therapeutic services to severely emotionally-disturbed children, adolescents, and their families. These community-based services—which range from crisis intervention and assessment to trauma treatment and psychiatric services—are designed to help children and adolescents live successively in their community.
A major component of ACMHS’s services for youth is the Alaska Child Trauma Center. The center specializes in providing direct trauma-focused services to children (ages three through twelve) who have experienced a complex trauma such as child abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence, or sexual abuse. “We’re making sure there’s a safe place for kids,” Jenkins says. “Their basic needs are getting met and they are being connected with support services that spring board them into a productive life—not into hospitals or prisons.”
For adults, ACMHS caters to helping consumers who are seriously mentally ill through its Folker team of clinicians and case managers, housing and engagement services, and institutional discharge program. Often, these adults have a history of incarceration or psychiatric inpatient care and have a difficult time functioning. ACMHS’s adult services are uniquely geared to help individuals who are involved in the Alaska Department of Corrections. It offers aggressive employment and support services, as well as sober support systems to help people get on and stay on a positive path. “We measure our success by how well they stay out of prison,” Jenkins says.
However, not all the adults who use ACMHS’s services have severe mental illnesses. A small segment rely on the organization’s adult day care services for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s. These services are increasingly becoming more vital as more baby boomers continue to age and battle health-related issues.
As a positive trend, people seem to have a greater awareness about mental health and willingness to address suicide, Jenkins says. They are becoming better educated about the topic. In part, he attributes this to resources like Mental Health First Aid, an eight-hour course that individuals and organizations can take to learn how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
North Star Behavioral Health
North Star Behavioral Health has been helping Alaska’s youth with life challenges since 1984. A trauma-informed care agency, North Star provides intensive therapeutic nursing, psychiatric, and spiritual treatments/interventions across the spectrum of services for acute and residential treatment. “All services within the agency use an integrative, multidisciplinary, and holistic [mind, body, and spirit] approach with an emphasis on developing and cultivating resiliency traits and characteristics,” says CEP Andrew Mayo, PhD. “This approach allows the agency as a whole to serve a wide range of needs for most populations of Alaska. We have the only acute program for children in the state.”
North Star has a multi-disciplinary team of professionals that offer individual, family, and group therapies; recreation and activity therapies; family support/education classes; medical and twenty-four-hour nursing care; and psychological testing and medication management. “The goal of our program is to improve patients’ overall mental health and resiliency,” Mayo says. “Our acute programs work with clients to resolve more intense symptomology that interferes with daily functioning. In our acute facilities the common conditions we treat are mood disorders, such as depression and psychosis, and trauma-related issues, such as physical and sexual abuse.”
North Star serves youth through three acute and residential treatment programs: the Trail Program, Alpine Academy, and the Summit. The Trail Program serves children and teens ages four to eighteen; Alpine Academy offers treatment services to adolescent girls ages twelve through eighteen; and the Summit serves preteen and teen boys ages eleven to eighteen.
Systemwide, North Star has the capacity of 140 acute beds (36 adult, 30 adolescent girls, 38 adolescent boys, 20 preteens, and 16 children). Its residential programs have the capacity for 60 total beds, with 30 beds in Palmer.
North Star also offers specialized treatment for service members and veterans ages eighteen and older through the Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital. The hospital, which opened in 2015, provides a dual track treatment program for military service members and veterans who have experienced trauma and are in need of detoxification and/or rehabilitation for substance abuse. The inpatient treatment program provides intensive trauma-focused multi-disciplinary treatment, such as psychotherapy, nursing, psychiatric, and spiritual, with the goal to improve patients’ overall resiliency. “We are proud to work with this population and appreciate the collegial relationship with other providers that offer varying levels of care such as the military behavioral health units and the VA system,” Mayo says.
The Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital is like no other program in the state. Most of the hospital’s staff have either served in or have family members who have served in the military, uniquely qualifying them to relate to patients. “This program allows the patients to feel safe with others who have served and had similar experiences,” Mayo says. “As all of the patients have at least one thing in common, the camaraderie of their experience is a crucial part of the healing process.”
Access Alaska is a private, nonprofit organization that provides independent living services to people who experience a disability. Its mission is to encourage and promote the total integration of people who experience a disability and Alaskan elders to live independently in the community of their choice.
As an independent living center, Access Alaska offers a variety of services designed to give Alaskans with disabilities the tools and resources they need to enhance independence, self-confidence, knowledge, skills, and access to community resources. It focuses on five core areas: information and referral, independent living skills training, individual and systems advocacy, deinstitutionalization or nursing home transition, and peer counseling for mental, physical, developmental, and other disabilities. “We’re all about helping people live in the community,” says Executive Director Doug White, LCFW.
Access Alaska also operates an Independent Wellness Program that serves adults with serious mental illness in the Anchorage and Fairbanks regions. The program helps participants with a wide variety of issues, including anxiety, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury.
However, the Independent Wellness Program does not provide counseling or psychiatric care. Instead, it is a mental health service coordination program that offers an alternative to the traditional mental health center model. Access Alaska’s Independent Wellness Program service providers deliver case management and skill building in the community to adults who want control over the development of their treatment plan and services delivered.
With offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai, and Wasilla, Access Alaska works across disabilities to serve a broad segment of the state. It assists people of all ages, but typically works with individuals fourteen and older. Anyone with any type of physical or mental impairment that significantly impacts their ability to live independently in the home and community can use the organization’s services. And its information and referral services are available to anyone, regardless of disability status. “We work with anyone who has a significant barrier to full access in the community,” White says.
Access Alaska provides consumer-directed services. This means that the individuals who use the services know what works best for them and determine the type of care they need. “We find that consumer-directed care empowers people to live their lives to their fullest,” White says.
In addition to being a consumer-driven organization, Access Alaska is staffed primarily by people who experience disabilities, and its board of directors is comprised of a majority of people with disabilities. Consequently, the staff and board members have a deep, personal understanding of the challenges and barriers that are encountered by consumers who choose to live independently. “We are operated by and for people with disabilities,” White says.
Other Mental Health Resources
There is an array of other entities available to help Alaskans address mental and behavioral health issues, including Alaska Psychiatric Institute, Akeela Inc., the Alaska Mental Health Consumer, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and the Alaska VA Healthcare System.
Additionally, Alaskans can receive help for mental illness by visiting alaska211.org or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations treatment services locator at findtreatment.samhsa.gov. People can also call the Alaska Mental Health Board (888-464-8920), the Alaska Peer Support Consortium (907-258-2772), or SAMHSA’s 24/7 treatment referral line (800-662-4357). Assistance is also available through carelinealaska.com, which provides confidential 24/7 crisis support and suicide intervention. Military veterans and service members can reach out to the National Veteran’s Crisis Line available by phone (800-273-8255), text (838255) or online (veteranscrisisline.net).
Freelance writer Tracy Barbour is a former Alaskan.
This article first appeared in the March 2017 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.