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A holistic approach to healing: Behavioral Health programs to be under one roof in Naytahwaush

The playground and courtyard at the Giwanikimin supportive housing units in Naytahwaush. Nathan Bowe/Tribune1 / 2
Construction is expected to start this month on the new behavioral health building in Naytahwaush. Submitted graphic.2 / 2

Addiction is a disease that attacks the body, mind, spirit and family — and all are treated together in White Earth's unique approach to behavioral health care.

The White Earth MOMS Program won the Commissioner's Circle of Excellence Award two years ago for tackling the opioid epidemic hurting pregnant mothers and their babies in White Earth.

"The White Earth MOMs program actually helps pregnant women who are addicted to opiates — we get them on suboxone, which is a medication that stops the withdrawal," said Julie Williams, program manager with the MOMs program, on a tribal Facebook video. "We're open seven days a week. They come in and dose every single day," she added. "Looking at substance abuse treatment, there's none that allow babies to come into group with them — there's not a lot that allow significant others to attend group with them."

"We do allow almost the whole family to come into group with them, which is unusual or almost unaccepted in other therapies, but here for us it works," said Dennis Hisgun, clinical supervisor/counselor WE MOMs program. "One of the biggest gaps in addiction therapy is having a safe environment for them to go home to. If we can help them bring their significant other in, and then work with them together as a family with their newborn child here, they grow here, they grow in their sobriety or recovery here, they're going to take that home with them."

The latest move forward is a facility to put several behavioral health programs under one roof in Naytahwaush.

Tribal Council members gave their blessing to the new building in a special meeting on Sept. 7.

"The White Earth Behavioral Health program is investing in construction of a new facility in Naytahwaush," said White Earth Behavioral Health Director Jeri Jasken.

The 33,000-square-foot building will house the Naytahwaush MAT (medical assisted treatment outpatient program) and Naytahwaush MOMS program, in addition to the substance abuse outpatient services, mental health services, autism and early childhood services, harm reduction and intervention services, and juvenile wellness services."

The one-level building will have office spaces, common areas, clinical exam rooms, a kitchen, laboratories and mechanical and electrical rooms, and will be paid for through funds earned through Behavioral Health services, mainly the MOMS and MATS programs. No general fund dollars will be used.

The building will be located three-quarters of a mile north of the Sports Complex near the supportive living complex on County Road 4 in Naytahwaush, and construction is expected to begin this month.

"Over the past three years the Behavioral Health Division has been very successful in creating needed programs for our communities," Jasken said. She said she's proud of the successful team-approach taken by staff and managers, and proud of the 90 MOMs and MATs graduates.

That includes the 70 native graduates who are now full-time employees of the tribe and other local businesses, and are "giving back to their communities and families," she said.

"This is what we are about," she added. "Saving lives, engaging in culture and healing, and working together as a tribal community for a better future."

So what's the secret of White Earth's success?

"We brought the culture back in," Williams said. "We believe in them, we don't judge them. We treat them like human beings — they have an addiction, which is a disease. So we treat it like a disease and not something they should be ashamed of."

Native spirituality and traditions are incorporated into all aspects of the program, Dennis Hisgun said. "It's unconventional treatment that we do here, but it's working for us," he said. "It's working for us here. It may not work somewhere else, but it's working for us here."

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