Woodland Centers increases access to mental health services

In the annual Woodland Centers update to the Kandiyohi County Board on Oct. 18, CEO Dr. Ashley Kjos presented on on the many changes and new services the mental health provider has brought to its seven county service area.

Woodland Centers, a mental health services provider based in Willmar is now a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic, providing mental health treatment and programs for adults and children.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — Improving access to mental health services such as counseling and treatment remains a priority for both Kandiyohi County and Woodland Centers. Even as society continues to come back from the challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the need for mental health services remains strong, and in some cases growing.

The Kandiyohi County Board heard the annual report from Woodland Centers on Oct. 18, and was provided a look into what the past year has been like for the mental health facility. Woodland Centers provides adult and adolescent mental health services in seven area counties — Chippewa, Big Stone, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Meeker, Renville and Swift. In 2021, Woodland Centers served 4,646 clients.

"Eighty seven percent of those clients were from our seven-county area. We do serve folks across the entire state actually," said Dr. Ashley Kjos, Woodland Centers CEO. " We serve people from 59 counties in the state of Minnesota. We serve people from out of state as well."

Dr. Ashley Kjos, CEO of Woodland Centers
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Over the last two years Woodland staff has been working on ways to better serve those communities. This has included completing the process to become a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic.

"It has really impacted everything we do, mostly in a positive way," Kjos said.


Being a CCBHC required Woodland Centers to implement a comprehensive evaluation process that doesn't just look at a person's mental health but all aspects of their health including physical and environmental such as living conditions. This then helps Woodland Centers create integrated treatment plans for clients which includes working with other organizations and heath care providers to get a person all the help they need.

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"We know we just can't treat the mental health," Kjos said.

Helping with that goal is Woodland Center's same day evaluation appointments for new clients, started in 2020. If a new client calls Woodland Centers looking for help they can be seen same day to start the process. The initial evaluation appointment is usually held remotely with a member of dedicated evaluation staff. This has not only helped get people the help they need quicker but has also cut back the appointment no-show rate drastically. On average Woodland Centers is filling 15 to 20 appointments slots a day.

While the same day evaluation appointments are usually done remotely, Woodland Centers has returned to offering most of its appointments in person. Approximately 65 percent of client services in 2022 have been done in person, though another 35 percent have been done either by phone or through a telemed program. Kjos said whether to have appointments in person or remotely depends a lot on the individual client. It is usually best to have appointments with children in person, but some adults might actually prefer remote meetings. Remote or telemedicine appointments do have their benefits.

"It is a really beautiful thing when we have our Minnesota snow days," Kjos said. "We can still see our clients, we can still deliver care. That is a really big deal for us and the clients."

Woodland Centers is also working to reach even more of its service populations. Last year Woodland was awarded a Primewest Health Equity grant, to help the organization increase both equity and inclusion for both clients and staff.

"Especially in Kandiyohi County, there is a big population that we are not serving. Not because there are not mental health or substance abuse needs, but because we need to do a better job of being inclusive to those populations," Kjos said, adding there is still a lot of work to be done, but that it is exciting work.

Naloxone kit from Woodland Centers
Woodland Centers now offers Naloxone kits that can be used to help reverse an opioid overdose. Each kit has three doses and so far Woodland Centers has given out 100 kits.
Contributed / Woodland Centers

Substance abuse continues to be a major issue in the region and Woodland Centers has increased the programming to better serve those needs. This year Woodland Centers became the first Naloxone access site in its region. Naloxone is a medicine that quickly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.


"Anyone in our communities can come to a Woodland Centers office and access Naloxone. We will give you a kit and we will offer you training on that," Kjos said. "This is really a life-saving drug for somebody who overdoses on opioids."

Each kit has three doses of Naloxone. So far Woodland Centers as given out approximately 100 kits, meaning 300 individual doses that can be used to potentially save 300 lives.

"Our hope with that is it starts with saving a life through Naloxone and goes into treatment and we can help those people into treatment," Kjos said.

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Unfortunately, it is not just adults who suffer from substance abuse, but adolescents as well. Woodland Centers started an adolescent program this year to better reach those younger clients.

"That has started in January and it has been full since we've opened," Kjos said. There are plans to partner with Prairie Lakes Youth Programs to provide help to those at PLYP.

In an attempt to stop children from falling down the hole of substance abuse, Woodland Centers has applied for a grant to provide behavioral health services to five area schools. This would bring licensed drug and alcohol counselors to those five schools to teach students the dangers of drug use and perhaps provide help to those youth who might already need it.

"The goal with this is early intervention and prevention," Kjos said. "We can talk to students and help them understand the risks and the dangers."

Woodland Centers has dealt with challenges over the last few years including staff shortages. It takes several years of schooling and supervision before a clinician can practice on their own. Woodland Center also has to compete with higher-paying positions in the metro area or in larger health care companies. All of this means there is a waiting list to start therapy, which is a concern when clients need help.


"It is really challenging," Kjos said.

Even with the challenges, Woodland Centers continues to offer much needed mental health services for clients across the region. The organization also continues to find new ways to improve access, offer additional programming and reach out to the community and it is a service the county board is glad to have.

"For mental health services to be that available in our community is just great," said Commissioner Corky Berg.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email or direct 320-214-4373.

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