Wilderness Health developing telehealth program focused on mental health

Updated: July 02, 2020 06:18 PM

There is a need for more telehealth and mental health services in rural northland communities. Wilderness Health, a local health collaborative of independent providers, is on a mission to bring more of these services to the area.


Wilderness Health plans on launching a telehealth mental health program for rural health care systems in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin. They recently received a grant of nearly $800,000 to help with this effort.

The telehealth program would expand across the 10 health system network wilderness health has: Bigfork Valley Hospital, Community Memorial Hospital, Cook Hospital, Ely Bloomenson Hospital, Fairview Range Medical Center, Lake View Hospital, North Shore Health, Rainy Lake Medical Center, Grand Itasca Clinic and St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth.

The funds from the grant will be used to develop capacity and infrastructure to provide telehealth services. This includes the addition of a program manager, equipment, and training resources.

This would help with providing increased access to necessary care like critical mental health services. 

"We are especially noticing an uptick in our need for mental health with COVID, the increase in depression rates and anxiety with the uncertainty and all of the changes," said Dr. Gretchen Karstens, the medical director of Wilderness Health.

Karstens said the Northland is significantly in need of improved mental health services in rural areas and says telehealth has been used a lot during COVID-19 to connect with patients who rely on mental health services.

"We have a critical shortage of mental health care providers in our region so the use of telehealth will allow us to expand mental health services into our local communities so that we can have shorter wait times and increase access to care for our local areas," said Karstens.

Karstens said the new telehealth program will be time efficient too. Usually the wait time to see a provider can be several months. This new program would also give remote areas access to services without having to travel long distances.

Karstens said telehealth has given providers the opportunity to reach into people's homes virtually and connect with them in a more comfortable and intimate setting.

"Mental health is a critical component of your overall health And that it's so important that we take care of this and that we know the earlier we can intervene, the better. By having this available I really hope it can help take out a barrier so that people can really make use of this wonderful resource and help themselves be in their best health," said Karstens.

Karstens said telehealth has been well received among patients. The plan is to have the program ready by the first half of 2021. They plan on starting this service at Lakeview Hospital in Two Harbors.

To learn more about Wilderness Health, click here.

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