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Trauma Center bridges mental health care gap

Free Press - 6/2/2024

Jun. 2—ST. PETER — In her house, the opening of the Greater Minnesota Trauma Center was a game changer.

Nancy Harmon of St. Peter has had two foster kids served by the Trauma Center, and she said their mental health troubles were addressed. Now they are doing better, Harmon said.

"Together we worked closely with this kiddo, who made huge strides forward concerning their mental health," Harmon said of one foster child, who is now 14 years old.

The Greater Minnesota Trauma Center opened in St. Peter in the fall of 2022, said owner Justin Coates. Their goal is to bridge the gap between when a person reaches out for help or services, and when they are finally able to see a provider. That duration is typically three to nine months.

During that time, people's struggles don't stop, Coates said. That's where the Trauma Center comes in. They see clients in a timely manner and get them the help they need.

"We see a wide variety of people from all walks of life," he said. "We specialize in complex trauma in kids and teens, including adolescents in foster care. But we also see people who are going through a transition in their life, a break up or a loss of a loved one.

"We really welcome anybody and everybody who wants to work on their mental health and work on themselves and be healthier," Coates said.

The Trauma Center offers a "safe space" for parents whose kids are in the child protection system and who need their visits with their child supervised. They also offer parent coaching.

In August, they'll host their second annual Trauma Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Coates said education is a key component of their mission, not just for providers but for the general public and foster families as well. He said the conference is a way to stay up to date.

"I knew there was a need for more mental health services, more clinicians in our area," Coates said, "particularly in rural Minnesota. But we also go beyond traditional therapy. I really believe in holistic, wrap-around services and that's where the education piece comes in. If we have healthy individuals and healthy families, we have a healthy community."

When the Trauma Center opened, Coates was the sole provider. Now there are seven employees. Clinicians there see an average of 25 clients per week, Coates said.

"That's one of my big goals," he said, "is to be able to bridge that gap and not have such lengthy wait lists in rural Minnesota for mental health care."

In the 2 1/2 years they've been open, they've reached 200 families or individuals, he estimated. Their clients are spread out throughout rural Minnesota with some as far away as 2 1/2 hours.

Down the road, Coates would like to add support groups for teenagers as well as parents, and resources for new or young parents and for those who have lost a child.

Of his field, Coates said it's a young one. He worked for six years at Le Sueur County before starting the Trauma Center, and is going to school for his doctorate in clinical psychology.

"We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go as well," he said. "We offer a space for families and people to come and feel safe. That's what I'm trying to create here is a space for people to come in and be vulnerable. That's a valuable asset to the community. We want to be seen as a place that's there for people when they need it, and provide quality, helpful services."

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