Sanford Health, UND announce behavioral health collaboration

David Dodds
Director of Communications, University of North Dakota
(701) 777-5529 /

Nathan Aamodt
Sanford Health Media Relations
(701) 200-6080 /

FARGO, N.D., Sept. 8, 2020 — Sanford Health and the University of North Dakota have joined forces to offer behavioral health support services to people struggling due to COVID-19.

The Behavioral Health Bridge, a Sanford/UND collaboration, is a series of online modules aimed at helping individuals experiencing common behavioral health conditions related to COVID-19 and promoting behavioral health treatment to address the current needs of people in the community.

The partnership’s new website and its associated modules are a free online service. The service is meant to offer scientific and clinically valid information — collected by the partnership team — to members of the community, giving them reliable tips and resources for managing behavioral health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. New resources and modules will be added as the partnership continues to grow.

As the coronavirus pandemic struck the United States in March, Dr. Stephen Wonderlich and Dr. Andrew McLean, who are friends and colleagues in Fargo and experts in behavioral health, began to discuss the potential long-term impact of COVID-19. Wonderlich and McLean then contacted their colleague Thomasine Heitkamp in the University of North Dakota – College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines because of her expertise in technological strategies to enhance mental health. That led to the Behavioral Health Bridge being formed by a team of 10 individuals with experience in psychiatry, bio-behavioral research, rural health, social work, behavioral health workforce development and behavioral health stigma. The collaboration also recognizes the growing need in rural communities with little or no access to behavioral health care services.

“We are excited to get this partnership with UND online and offer much needed behavioral health support to those who either don’t have proper access or are uncomfortable asking for help,” said Dr. Stephen Wonderlich, Vice President of Research at Sanford Health in Fargo. “We are in unprecedented times and our mental health is so important. It is our hope that having these resources readily available will help individuals who are suffering cope and recover.”

The online COVID-19 behavioral health modules include:

“There is a great deal of need for mental health resources, information and treatment. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of ‘noise’ out there from various sources, and the Behavioral Health Bridge is one way to bring current and reliable information to the public and providers, including those in our rural communities. We hope this project will play a role in addressing the behavioral health needs of the region during the pandemic and beyond,” said Andrew McLean, Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Thomasine Heitkamp, UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Nursing, leads UND’s Grand Challenges goal of helping rural communities through their unique health and social problems. Heitkamp worked in partnership with Dr. Shawnda Schroeder at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences Center for Rural Health to launch this project. The Rural Health and Communities Grand Challenge is one of five goals put forth in UND’s 2017-2022 Strategic Plan.

“There isn’t an effort more singularly focused on this Grand Challenge than our Behavioral Health Bridge collaboration,” said Heitkamp. “We are building partnerships, expanding workforce capacity and expanding access to behavioral healthcare at all levels. That is absolutely critical to our mission.”

The Behavioral Health Bridge is a partnership between Sanford Health, Sanford Center for Bio-behavioral Research, UND College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines, UND Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and UND Center for Rural Health in the School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

This project is made possible by generous donors to the Sanford Health Foundation. Funds raised stay local to support unique programs, provide education and help purchase life-saving equipment and technology. The University of North Dakota also supports this project to cover time of faculty, staff and web development.

About University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota is the chief opportunity engine for North Dakota and UND students. Founded in 1883, six years before North Dakota was granted statehood, UND is among the nation’s premier regional public research universities and is at an exciting point in its 137-year history. Classified as a “Doctoral University: Higher Research Activity” institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, UND is characterized by a solid foundation of the liberal arts, high quality students and faculty, a diverse curriculum, a widely recognized program of graduate education and research, law and medical schools praised for quality and innovation, rich cultural resources, and an outstanding record of alumni support. Long a provider of distance education, UND is developing a robust online presence. Learn more at

About Sanford Health

Sanford Health, one of the largest health systems in the United States, is dedicated to the integrated delivery of health care, genomic medicine, senior care and services, global clinics, research and affordable insurance. Headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the organization includes 46 hospitals, 1,400 physicians and more than 200 Good Samaritan Society senior care locations in 26 states and 10 countries. Learn more about Sanford Health’s transformative work to improve the human condition at or Sanford Health News.