Q&A: What to know about the Southern Wisconsin Mental Health Conference

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Ashley McCallum
Saturday, August 12, 2017

JANESVILLE-- Healthnet of Rock County is gearing up to host its second annual Southern Wisconsin Mental Health Conference.

Healthnet CEO Ian Hedges said this year's focuses will be on trauma and the opioid epidemic.

He answered the following questions about the conference:

Q: Why is this conference important for Rock County?

A: "Last year we were considered a mental health provider shortage area by the federal government. Keep in mind, mostly everywhere across the U.S. is labelled as such, but they said we would need to hire 10 more psychiatrists and psychologists just to meet up with the demand of patients.

"We want to give this as an opportunity not just for providers but stakeholders and community members to have an open dialogue and conversation about mental health. We need to think of ways we can enhance our care and processes so we can reach more people who are in need of mental health services."

Q: Will this year's conference be any different than last?

A: "This year, we're really going to be focusing a great deal on trauma and the opioid epidemic because those are two topics that we have heard from providers and consumers on still wanting more education in that realm.

"We are going to be highlighting a report about all of our efforts we're doing around sober living in Rock County, and that is a joint report that is going to be put out by Healthnet and another agency.

"We are working towards trying to get people to understand that even a small county is making a big impact around mental health.

"We have a county that's really doing great things for those with addiction, even though we do not have all of the resources we want or need.

"We want to highlight to other regions in the state and local individuals that these programs exist or that there are other programs out there that can help us do our work better."

Q: What are some of these programs?

A: "Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson Counties are going to be highlighting their human-trafficking program that focuses on placing police officers as mentors with human trafficking victims. To my knowledge, there is no other program like this in the country. So there are a lot of legal aspects, a lot of different aspects they are navigating, but it is for the most part a very great program for those who have suffered from human-trafficking."

Q: Who normally attends this conference?

A: "It's more providers, it's more community stakeholders such as the drug-free coalitions or county government, but I say that that should not stop people from coming. There are so many people whose family members suffer from behavioral health conditions and ... the general mental health system has made it complex to navigate.

"Learning more so that you can be able to take care of a neighbor or family member is just as empowering or just as important."

Q: Why is it important that Healthnet is involved with this? What resources do you bring to the conference?

A: "The reason why it's so important for us is because, being our mission to deliver health care to those who are most vulnerable, how can we not consider those who are most vulnerable, those who are not getting mental health care?

"I think that that is critically important for us to highlight as part of our mission. While we're hosting this conference, it's a good opportunity for us to look into what opportunities or avenues are there for us to partner or for us to give better care opportunities for our patients."

Q: How is this funded?

A: It is funded by ticket pricing and sponsorship.

Q: What can people expect at the conference this year?

"This year we have Sam Quinones, a New York Times best-selling author who really investigated the opioid epidemic. We are still flushing out the program a little bit, which is why we have the early-bird pricing, but I think that people will not be disappointed by the caliber we have to offer and the information they're going to be getting."

Q: What does Healthnet provide for mental health?

"We started an integrated behavioral health program in which our doctors are able to diagnose depression and anxiety in-house.

"We are able to prescribe medication for those diseases, and if a patient needs further assistance through counseling, we have multiple agencies that have assisted us through the use of their younger counselors or through their counselors that are in the intern process.

"Last year we received a grant to do telepsychiatry so we are working with state partners to determine what kind of telepsychiatry resources there are, or of psychiatrists who are interested in doing it and can do it long distance."

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