Pictured from left, Morgan Popp, Sally Poepping, Mike Fahey, Jenny Klinger and Stacy Shones lead a tour of the new Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center, slated to open in August.
by BEN MCLEOD
On Thursday, May 24, staff members at Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center (HVMHC) conducted a tour of their new facility in the former Winona Health building in Sarnia Square. HVMHC had outgrown its current space and purchased its new home in fall 2017, and organizers expect to have the first phase of construction completed in August 2018.
The new facility will include more available space for staff, large areas for peer group meetings, a drop-in center for people suffering from mental health issues, and expanded help for children. The growing number of patients with opioid addiction issues will also be better served with the increased space and resources.
Winona Health CEO Rachelle Schultz sees the expansion as a lifeline to Winonans managing mental health issues. "We just need these services in the community," Schultz said. "So I'm pleased to see them growing." The new 45,400-square-foot facility will be a big increase in space for HVMHC — for the staff as well as the patients. Marie Kovecsi, member of the HVMHC Board of Directors, said, "It's more comfortable; there's more room for staff collaboration. That's the value of all this extra elbow room."
Kovecsi was excited for the new building and the expanded options HVMHC will be able to offer with its new resources. Kovecsi, also a Winona County commissioner, said, "Community mental health, particularly for children, is an area I've tried to focus on for the county, to see if we could coordinate better with community agencies to have better options for our families." For example, until the renovation is complete, children's services will continue to be housed in the basement of another building. "It's very difficult. The staff does the best they can to make people feel more comfortable in an old-fashioned, dark space." HVMHC already sends therapists to each school in the Winona, Lewiston-Altura and St. Charles districts with no charge to the students’ families. Addressing the mental health issues of young people can prevent more serious problems further down the road. "The programs are hopefully preventative and holding the kids together so they don't get worse," Kovecsi explained. "It can be diabolical what it can do to you."
The HVMHC addresses adult problems as well, like assisting seniors and others suffering from dementia. "If they're a danger to themselves or tend to wander," mused Kovecsi, "how many services can you apply directly to the home and how many do you offer at the facility?"And the county jail makes use of mental health assistance in managing addiction.
Mental illness is not treated as the embarrassing secret it was when the organization began treating people in Winona, Wabasha and Houston counties in 1965. In the intervening years, HVMHC has expanded to serve Goodhue and Fillmore counties as well. "We can reduce the stigma in the community," explained Kovecsi. “It helps having ambassadors out there, saying, 'I've been there, it's not horrible, it put me back on track.'" The new facility moves HVMHC and Southeast Minnesota closer to that goal.