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Barnes County Behavioral Health Coalition welcomes Dr. Wehbi

group of people around tables
Barnes County Behavioral Health Coalition discusses concerns with Dr. Wehbi.

Dr. Nizar Wehbi, the North Dakota State Health Officer, spent an entire day – Thursday, November 16 – in Valley City. As Dr. Wehbi noted, “each person’s health is made up of three important components – physical, behavioral and economic health.” The Barnes County Behavioral Health Coalition spent time discussing how these three components tie together. Attendees representing over 20 organizations shared about the challenges being experienced as a community as well as the success of our local partnerships. Representatives from local public health, K-12, university, law enforcement, corrections, mental health providers shared about behavioral health and housing challenges.

As concerns were discussed, the overlap between behavioral and economic health became very apparent. “When someone is struggling to find or keep a roof over their head, it becomes really hard to be healthy,” states Theresa Will, City-County Health District Administrator. In January the ND Caring Foundation issued a report, "Health and Well-Being in North Dakota." Nearly 19% of lower-income householders living in Barnes County are paying 30% or more of their income towards housing costs. Recently a group of local leaders met to discuss ways to support housing for individuals. The group is looking for ways to improve access to low barrier and affordable housing.

three people in a row - woman, man, woman
After the Behavioral Health Coalition meeting, Dr. Wehbi (center) toured City-County Health District with Katie Beyer, Deputy Administrator (left) and Theresa Will, Administrator (right).

The collaboration and dedication of attendees was noted – as public servants across fields are spending additional time supporting the behavioral needs of community members. Whether it is the increased length of calls for service related to mental health that law enforcement spends time responding to or the impacts experienced by K-12 professionals, the need for collaboration and broad community support is apparent.

“Valley City Public Schools has worked to elevate this message through the recent Mental Health Awareness Week held October 8-16, 2023,” stated Josh Johnson, Valley City Public Schools Superintendent. Through community support, the Access for All program has allowed students to access mental health providers regardless of income level.

Access to mental health providers and appropriate levels of care were discussed. As access to the State Hospital has decreased, local providers, law enforcement and corrections have had to shift how to meet individual’s behavioral health needs. “We need an appropriate level of access and mental health providers, as correctional officers, we are not mental health providers” stated Anna Berntson, Barnes County Corrections Lieutenant. Dr. Wehbi reminded everyone that supportive legislation is an important part of this process.

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