When she decided to pursue a PhD in sociology, Terje Fritsma first thought she would be a professor. But after a few years, she realized that the field of work did not really suit her. Academic life had its advantages, but she wanted a career with a clear relevance to real life.
She said, “For me, it is much more satisfying that you are doing work that has a direct and positive impact on people right now, and one that can do some good. It is what makes my life worth living, among other things. It is hard for me to I can imagine doing anything else.”
With the aim of using her research skills to make a positive impact on people’s daily lives, Fritsma took the path of public service, working as a workforce analyst in the labor market in Minnesota Colleges and Universities System and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) before joining Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) as the lead health care workforce analyst.
While academics may have more control over what they study or how their research is structured, Fritsma said she’s never questioned the trade-off: “For me it’s the right thing to do.”
In recent years, Fritsma has focused on mental health professionals in Minnesota. Her research has revealed troubling trends, including The Advanced Psychology Workforce in Minnesota, Effect Low wage rates in the industry and the Statewide shortage of psychiatrists.
Recently, Fritsma’s research into the shortage of licensed alcohol and drug counselors (LADCs) in Greater Minnesota helped influence state legislators to add LADCs to the list of mental health professionals eligible for state administration. loan forgiveness If they agree to work in rural Minnesota for at least three years. Her advocacy also led to increased funding to support pre-licensing training supervision hours.
Her efforts led leaders in NAMI Minnesota to be selected for the organization’s annual award public service award, Which Recognizes a local, state, or federal government employee who demonstrates leadership and commitment to improving the mental health system.
Nitika Muibi, MDH Workforce Analysis Program Supervisor, nominated Fritsma, whose expertise and experience consider Muibi, “one of the city’s best kept secrets”.
“You don’t go to state service for compensation,” Muebe said. “You go into it for the satisfaction of knowing that your work is making a difference and that you are serving a common good that benefits the entire state of Minnesota.”
Sue Abderholden, CEO of NAMI Minnesota, praised “tracing the incredible work of Fritsma”. Graduation results for students in the areas of mental health, mapping licensing pathways, and measuring ‘leaks’ along the pipeline. ”
Abdulden said she appreciates Fritsma’s quick response to her requests for assistance, and said NAMI staff appreciate partnering with her in expanding the Loan Forgiveness Program and LADCs. “As a government employee, she goes above and beyond and we are delighted to have the opportunity to partner with her.”
For Fritsma, the award seemed like a big deal. “It’s such an honor for me,” she said, “because I care so much.” In her acceptance speech, she spoke about her personal experience of her family and her personal experience of seeking mental health care. Fritsma said this kind of care has improved her life, and she believes everyone in the state should be able to get the same kind of access.
“To me it is as obvious as making sure everyone has food, clean water, housing, medical care etc. It is also clear that we do not have enough – not enough – mental health professionals to meet the need, especially now.”
While Fritsma’s research has revealed a looming – and currently – mental health workforce shortage in Minnesota, the greatest need lies in rural areas of the state. In recent years, she has taken her findings down the road, spoken to organizations and individuals about the seriousness of the situation, and made suggestions about possible solutions.
Lance Egli, former governor of Minnesota Chemical Health and Recovery Resource Association (March) And Personnel development coordinator Red Lake Nation Tribal Chemical Health Program, said he met Fritsma two years ago, when she presented at the Marsh Conference.
she has Research on regional care disparities has affected Egli, but he said one number feels especially important: “When you get to state border regions or even small towns, there’s only one center for every 13,576 people.”
Egli, who lives in Bemidji, was well aware that LADCs were few and far between in his part of the state, but he didn’t realize the situation was that bad. He said rural communities have been hit hard by the addiction crisis, and people living in remote communities have nowhere to turn when they are in an addiction crisis.
Fritsma’s careful analysis of workforce trends has revealed that even when local colleges and universities are able to graduate trained addiction professionals, many are leaving the region — or turning to more lucrative healthcare jobs. Her presentations suggested that some strategies could help stem the tide and attract or retain more addiction professionals to the area.
“I realized there was a real connection between health inequality in rural areas and the workforce work that Terry was doing,” said Egley. “We started thinking about where people are coming from as low-cost countries in the Mediterranean and where they are going [after graduation]. We don’t seem to be keeping them all.”
Marty Paulson Strommen, CEO/CEO Turnabot project“LADC is the primary care provider for treating patients. They are the focal point of our multidisciplinary team,” said the nonprofit organization for addiction recovery services with locations in Granite Falls, Marshall and Wilmar.
She explained that her organization is trying to maintain a ratio of 6-7 patients per initial LADC. “When you have about 200 beds you need a lot of initial LADCs.” Lately, that’s gotten tricky, Paulson-Stroman said: “In the last year and a half or two, the shortage has gotten stronger and stronger. Rural Minnesota is at a disadvantage just to put it so far.” She added that closing schools nearby for LADC training programs is not helping.
Paulson Strowman said Fritsma’s research has the potential to help change the outlook for employers such as Project Turnabout. “Her research makes a huge and important difference because people don’t realize these numbers until someone puts it in front of them. It makes all the difference in the world.”
effect of change
New loan forgiveness legislation will make LADCs who agree to practice for at least three years in a designated rural area of the state eligible for an annual award of $9,300. This help, Fritsma said, is “huge.” “LADCs were never eligible for loan forgiveness. Now they are.”
While Egli doubts that the program will be able to fully balance the disparity in the workforce between rural and urban areas in the state, he is optimistic that it will at least narrow the gap: “You can see that the discrepancy we started with is huge. But I think it will make a difference.”
Paulson-Stommen said loan forgiveness programs could be “one of the reasons LADCs choose to stay here.” Her organization is also developing other programs designed to attract and retain mental health staff. “We have worked hard at Project Turnabout to develop our own program that allows our employees to return to school and continue their education. We have tuition reimbursement and are working hard to start developing our skills and spark their interest in the LADC program.”
Paulson Stomin believes adding LADCs to the state’s Mental Health Workforce Loan Forgiveness Program will provide a significant boost. “I think it will play an important role. Tuition fees are very expensive.” And since LADCs earn less than other healthcare professionals, she added, “we need to be able to entice them with other benefits, and that’s at the top of the list.”
For Fritsma, such changes are an official recognition that easy access to mental health care, like access to physical health care, is a right that should be given to everyone in the state, no matter where they live.
“I hope this will drive change and fundamentally change the conversation — perhaps even the way we compensate mental health providers,” she said in her acceptance speech. “NAMI has obviously always known this, but it will probably take a global pandemic for the rest of us to realize that without mental health, there is no health.”