Grant funds cover cost to supervise and coordinate telehealth visits with postdoctoral trainees
Williston, N.D. Milestone Health Partners in Williston, North Dakota was one of several recipients of the 2023 BUILD grants given by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota (BCBSND) Caring Foundation. The grant helped fund an expansion of their telehealth program for behavioral health services.
Tackling two health care issues with one program
Milestone Health Partners began operating in 2021 with a goal to increase access to behavioral health services across the patient’s lifespan. They currently have two full-time psychologists on staff who together provide approximately 65 therapy and psychological testing sessions per week. Despite a high volume of patients being serviced each week, Milestone Health Partners continues to have an extensive waitlist of 120 people seeking behavioral health services.
To obtain licensure in North Dakota, health care professionals must complete 1,500 hours of supervised work and 100 hours of supervision. Dr. Alyssa Suess, a licensed pediatric psychologist at Milestone Health Partners, explained how expanding the telehealth program to incorporate provider training can benefit health care access and quality.
“In general, recruiting providers for behavioral health services is difficult. Recruiting them to our area in western North Dakota is particularly challenging,” said Dr. Suess. “We expanded the telehealth program to incorporate training which allows postdoctoral trainees to receive experience hours required for licensure while providing telehealth therapy services directly into Milestone Health Partners. By incorporating trainees, local residents are able to gain access to behavioral health services with shorter wait times.”
Collaboration across the state
Because of funds from the BUILD grant, Milestone Health Partners was able to recruit two postdoctoral trainees in 2023.
“The program went smoothly and we were able to go beyond psychotherapy and therapy services by extending the training to include some testing services. It was a nice positive change to be able to go beyond the initial proposal,” shared Dr. Suess.
Leaning into the challenges of access
As Dr. Suess mentioned, recruiting behavioral health service providers can be a challenge for more rural areas of North Dakota where candidates may not have family ties or receive a competitive salary. This shortage of providers is one of the data points mentioned in the 2022 Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) study, which reported a shortage of primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers in North Dakota.
While funding like the BUILD grants can help offset some of the costs to train and supervise future providers and increase access for communities for a short time, there’s still a lot of work to be done to create sustainable and affordable health care access for every community. Until then, Dr. Suess is thankful for the funding the BUILD grant provided for Milestone Health Partners’ telehealth program. The funding helps more services and training happen in collaboration with providers from across the state.
About Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota (BCBSND) Caring Foundation
Established in 1989, the BCBSND Caring Foundation (www.BCBSND.com/caring-foundation) is a private 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Through giving and investing, the Caring Foundation focuses on key health issues that help improve the health and well-being of North Dakotans and their communities. Caring Foundation staff work with grantees to support nonprofit sustainability, collaborate on shared outcomes and create lasting change.
About Milestone Health Partners
Milestone Health Partners (www.milestonehealthpartners.com) began in 2021 and was the brainchild of three women, all natives of Williston, who have a passion for their professions and community. They started Milestone Health Partners with the goal of providing services for the entire family in one location. Their facility has 12 private treatment rooms, two gyms to serve patients of all ages and a large conference room for team-based evaluations.