SMHC opens new doors: Ribbon cutting, open house is Friday

LUVERNE -- Four years after Southwestern Mental Health Center began looking into options for permanent office space in Luverne, the agency will celebrate its new home inside the former Lewis Drug building, 117 S. Spring St., with a ribbon cutting...

The new location for the Southwestern Mental Health Center at 117 S. Spring St., Luverne. Tim Middagh/Daily Globe

LUVERNE - Four years after Southwestern Mental Health Center began looking into options for permanent office space in Luverne, the agency will celebrate its new home inside the former Lewis Drug building, 117 S. Spring St., with a ribbon cutting and holiday open house Friday. The public is invited to join in the celebration, which includes coffee, cookies and facility tours from 3-5 p.m.

SMHC’s lease ran out on its East Luverne Street office space in 2011. For the next few years, the agency relied on a year-to-year lease as they searched for a suitable location in Luverne. In September 2013, the agency purchased the former Lewis Drug building, but an extensive remodeling project was required.
Scott Johnson, executive director of SMHC, said $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Loan Program was accessed to fund the remodeling project. The work was completed this fall, and agency staff moved to the new location in October.
The new location gives the agency ample room for growth and, based on the rising need for mental health services, Johnson said staff has already been increased.
“The demand for services has never been higher and we’ve been expanding in anticipation of moving,” he said.
The Luverne office now employees 22 full- and part-time staff members. Four employees have been added since 2011, including a mental health professional, community practitioner, community educator and administrative services director.
The new space is about 3,000 square feet larger than the old offices, Johnson said. Inside, the building features several rooms for counseling services, group reading rooms, two play therapy rooms and more physician space.
“We’ve added more physicians and subscribers, and we’ll likely add more after the first of the year,” he said.
Approximately half of the 22 staff members are based in Luverne full-time, with the remainder traveling to SMHC offices, schools or other locales in southwest Minnesota to provide services.
One of their newest staff additions is a TXT4Life Coordinator, a part-time, grant-funded position focused on suicide prevention using texting for its suicide hotline. Johnson said the program is now being promoted in schools and colleges in the agency’s five-county service area.
Mental health needs in southwest Minnesota are on the rise, with more children and adolescents served by SMHC than ever before. An increasing number of adults are also seeking counseling.
Johnson said the increased needs are thought to be a combination of things - the economy, more awareness of mental health issues, better insurance coverage and less stigma.
“More people than ever before are reporting being exposed to some sort of traumatic event,” he said, adding that schools are also seeing increased demand for mental health services among students.
Many of the patients served by SMHC are seen through physician or school social worker referrals, while others are self-referred or referred by family members. Walk-ins are accepted at any of SMHC’s locations in Luverne, Worthington, Jackson, Windom and Pipestone.
Two years ago, in July 2013, SMHC moved into its new offices in downtown Worthington. Johnson said the move, which combined offices in four different locations, has been a success.
“We thought that was an enormous building (when it was built) and it’s full,” he said. The neighboring Unity House, an in-patient treatment facility, is also at occupancy levels.
As Johnson looks toward the future for SMHC, he said integration of mental health with primary care services is an area of growth for the agency.
“Integration with primary care is what we’re being asked to look at - services for folks with mental health and chronic health care needs that would benefit from better coordinated care,” Johnson said.

Admissions and waiting rooms at the new Southwestern Mental Health Center in Luverne. Tim Middagh/Daily Globe

Related Topics: HEALTH
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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