Counties react to closure of Riverwood Centers

The closing leaves thousands searching for new mental health providers—

by Rachel Kytonen and Jon Tatting

The recent closing of Riverwood Centers has left nearly 4,000 residents of East Central Minnesota searching for new mental health service providers.

The Braham-based nonprofit was known for decades as Five County Mental Health Centers because it originally contracted with Mille Lacs, Isanti, Chisago, Pine and Kanabec counties. It was licensed through the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

When Riverwood Centers closed its doors March 17 due to financial reasons, only Isanti, Chisago and Pine counties were part of its contracted services for people who were uninsured or underinsured. Riverwood Centers also had offices in Cambridge, Milaca, North Branch, Pine City and Mora.

Besides crisis services, Riverwood Centers provided psychological assessment and therapies, medication management, community-based mental health rehabilitation services for children and adults, anger management and offender treatment programs, individual, family and group therapy, and emergency in-home visits.

As a result of the closure, Chisago County is setting up an emergency hotline, offering resource referral and preparing staff to field a higher volume of calls from residents who have been impacted.

County Administrator Bruce Messelt said of the 900 or so county residents who had been receiving services at Riverwood, approximately 50, or 20 percent, were provided with case management by the county’s Health and Human Services Department.

“They came to us and qualified for medical assistance, and we provided case management for them,” Messelt said.

The remaining 80 percent, however, were those in trust with Riverwood and paid for with their own insurance or expense. That means the county is not able to identify or reach out to the bulk of its residents who were served by the agency.

“Due to data privacy laws, the nonprofit will not share client data with us because we’re not the trustee or the one managing their cases. So we have no knowledge of those clients,” Messelt explained.

Chisago County is establishing a special hotline for residents with any questions or concerns. For now, they can call the county’s Health and Human Services Department at 651-213-5600 and request the mental health unit. In addition, county staff has been prepared to take on more case management inquires and offer resource referral.

“Riverwood should have given us 30 days notice,” said Messelt, noting the county was notified of the March 17 closure on the previous Thursday. “It’s a very disheartening situation because people need these services. … It is very disruptive for the clients.”

Bob Gleb, from Chisago City, was receiving services through Riverwood Centers at its North Branch location.

“It was a travesty that Riverwood Centers shut down so quickly,” he said. “It didn’t give many people a warning and a chance to look for counseling services elsewhere. I was going to therapy sessions every other week at the North Branch location. I really feel cut off by all this.”

Isanti County responds

Isanti County Family Services Director Penny Messer said Isanti County had currently been paying $264,000 per year for its contracted services through Riverwood Centers. She said her department knew for the past few years that Riverwood was having some financial difficulties, but didn’t receive notice until March 12 that Riverwood planned to close March 17.

Messer said as of Dec. 31, 2013, Isanti County had 953 individuals with open cases through Riverwood Centers; Chisago County, 981; Pine County, 719; Mille Lacs, 481; Kanabec County, 432; and 209 from other counties. Messer also estimated around 100 people had been working for Riverwood Centers at the time of its closing.

Riverwood Centers is not connected in any way to the Riverwood Village senior living facility at Cambridge Medical Center.

Messer said Isanti County is working with other area mental health service providers, such as Allina Hospitals, Family Based Therapy Associates and Safe Transitions, to see if those agencies can help fill a void of mental health services left by the closure of Riverwood Centers.

“Our Isanti County clients are the most important to us right now, and we are working with them to make sure they are receiving their case management services,” Messer said. “We are working hand-in-hand with our resource lists, and all of our staff have this listing to pass on to Riverwood clients. We are working on developing another community mental health provider. We are also working jointly with the other counties to see how we can develop services.”

Louise Newsom, of Cambridge, was a client with Riverwood Centers for more than 10 years when it closed.

“I was currently in the community support program at Riverwood Centers,” Newsom said. “I had seen a therapist through them for some length of time, but when I moved into an employee position with them for a while as a peer specialist, I decided to receive therapy services elsewhere. But I still received their social calendar and did many social activities with them. I also benefited from their services when I had one of their workers meet with me individually in my home for mental health services.”

Messer said currently her department’s No. 1 priority is working with the clients of Riverwood Centers to find new service providers.

“We have a heavy heart for those individuals right now,” Messer said. “We knew Riverwood Centers’ closing was a possibility due to its financial situation, and we knew when it happened we’d have to go into crisis mode. We are prepared and are finding these clients the resources they need.”

Messer said the crisis services Riverwood provided for children and adults, as well as the 24-7 crisis hotline, are being provided by a different agency.

“We are looking at all our different options,” Messer said. “We are in a crisis mode right now, but we are looking at the big picture. A large percentage of Riverwood Center clients from Isanti County had a case manager with us, so we are working with them.”

Messer said all the counties effected by Riverwood’s closing are working together.

“All the counties are working together on this; one county can’t do this by themselves,” Messer said. “We all have known for many years that Riverwood Centers has had financial issues. We need to develop a service program that can be self-sustaining and effective for individuals with mental health issues.”

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