Mental health crisis: Therapist earns sheriff’s gratitude

"Each call is different, making the work we do both challenging and rewarding."

By: Pat Miller .

Janna Wiele, Sanford Bemidji professional on the crisis intervention team.
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Behavioral health therapist Janna Wiele began her career less than a year ago when she joined Sanford Bemidji’s Mobile Crisis Response Team.

In her first position after earning a master’s degree in social work, the aspiring outpatient therapist was looking for variety. The fast pace of responding to mental health crisis calls seemed like a good fit.

“I like problem solving, and a lot of the work you do involves problem solving and working with the client to come up with a plan,” Wiele said.

One night in October, Wiele was called in to help law enforcement with a person experiencing an acute mental health crisis in a life-threatening situation. The person also refused to leave a building.

For privacy reasons, Wiele can’t offer details about the situation, which could be recognizable. But when the call came in, less than a year after she’d started her career, she hesitated. “I don’t know if I’m going to have the right skills to handle this case,” she told her supervisor.

But then she spent eight hours helping officers and others to build trust with the person — and proved her mettle.

“Using the skills that I have as a therapist, staying calm and showing the client that I care about them helped diffuse the situation,” Wiele said.

Her efforts impressed Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodap so much that he sent her a letter of commendation.

“I wanted to honor her for having the patience and stick-to-it-ness to help us bring a tough situation to its conclusion without someone getting hurt,” Hodap said. “We are not mental health experts, and having access to people like Janna who are able to help law enforcement navigate through situations like this is invaluable to us.”

On the job, off the job

Wiele spends half of her workweek available to help with crisis calls, including nights and weekends. “Each crisis call is different. We work with individuals dealing with mental health crises, homelessness, substance use and thoughts of suicide,” she said.

Clearly it’s not a job that just anyone could do well, though. Wiele rattled off some characteristics of the type of person it takes: “Somebody who can build rapport really quick. Somebody who can remain calm in a chaotic situation. Someone who has problem-solving skills and works well in a team.”

However, working frequently with people going through steep challenges can take a toll.

“Something that I find difficult about my job is that we often respond to the calls after the crisis has taken place,” Wiele said. “At times I find myself wishing that I could have been there before the situation turned into a crisis.”

The crisis response team debriefs about a case afterward. And Wiele knows she can talk with a supervisor if she’s struggling.

“After a difficult case, it can be hard for me to stop thinking about the crisis, even after my work day has ended,” Wiele said. So she’s conscientious about taking care of herself in her spare time. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, exercising, reading and watching movies.

About the crisis team

More than a dozen members of Sanford Bemidji’s behavioral health crisis team are available to lend a hand in an emergency situation day or night. They serve the Minnesota counties of Beltrami, Hubbard, Clearwater and Lake of the Woods.

“We are responding to crisis calls in the client’s home, hospital, local schools and at other organizations in the community,” Wiele said.

The responding team member assesses the situation to determine the person’s level of risk and the best approach to intervention, including the amount of support needed. For example, in the October case, “there was a lot of coordinating care among law enforcement, the family, the Sanford emergency department and others,” Wiele said.

“All of the professionals involved worked together like a team. This case made me hopeful about the direction the community is heading in providing health services.”

Joining Wiele on Sanford Bemidji’s Mobile Crisis Response Team are team supervisor Vanessa Wananu, Ashlea McMartin, Jessa Peterson, Kimberly Avenson, Mandy Strong, Merri McCarthy, Jessica Hublit, Shawn Whiting, Ashley Benson, Heather Charwood, Tiahna Edevold, Monica Thul, Whittney Jensen, Jane Phelps, Karlene Stay, Heather Larson, Leah Larson and Suzi Cooper.

Being in a rural area with limited mental health resources for residents acts as a barrier to the job, Wiele said. “Staffing cases with my team and brainstorming with them to ensure we are providing the best care for the client is an important piece of the job that allows me to grow as a therapist and mobile crisis response worker,” she said.

“I am proud of the work our crisis team is doing.”

Unique approach

When Sanford Health conducted a community health needs assessment in Bemidji, it identified mental health services as one of the top areas of concern. That led to the formation of a partnership with Beltrami County that’s unique to the organization and nationally because of its public-private community approach to mental health services.

To learn more about Sanford Bemidji’s Mobile Crisis Response Team’s services, contact Sanford Health Behavioral Health Center at (218) 333-2200.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the hotline directly at (800) 422-0045. You’ll be connected with a Sanford Health mental health professional.

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