Former Commissioner Emily Piper told Phoenix Spirit readers in August 2018 about Fast-Tracker, a new online service to help connect people to substance use disorder and mental health treatment services. Now, a little over a year later, how has Fast-Tracker been working, and what’s next?
First a bit about Fast-Tracker: It is an online, searchable database of mental health services and substance use disorder treatment programs and resources. Fast-Tracker not only provides information about what services are out there, but where they are available. This easy, intuitive website is designed for both professionals working with a person seeking treatment and for the general public. Whether you are a treatment provider, a family member, friend, or a person seeking treatment for yourself, Fast-Tracker is there to help you find what you need when you need it.
You can take a look at Fast-Tracker at www.fast-trackermn.org. Fast-Tracker is managed by the Minnesota Mental Health Community Foundation and funded in part by grants from Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS).
Fast-Tracker is an exciting tool that makes finding and getting substance use disorder and mental health treatment easier. We know that getting connected to treatment is critical, because treatment works. Most Minnesotans who enter substance use disorder treatment complete it and show considerable improvement. Successful treatment can improve employment, housing, and lawful behavior. Further, participation in recovery and support groups, and abstinence from substance use and other benefits of treatment tend to continue over the long term. Studies show that people experiencing mental illnesses can and do get better, and many recover completely. There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before. Finding them is now easier because of Fast-Tracker.
So that’s Fast-Tracker. Is it making a difference?
We believe that the hard work of the Minnesota Mental Health Community Foundation is paying off: Fast-Tracker is connecting people to substance use disorder treatment and mental health treatment and making a real difference in the lives of many Minnesotans.
Many providers have been vocal in their support. Todd Archbold, LSW, MBA, of PrairieCare and PrairieCare Medical Group, one of the region’s largest providers of psychiatric services, wrote recently that, “Fast-Tracker has proven to be a valuable and reliable tool for our mental health community.” He added that, “Our staff benefit from access to the Fast-Tracker on a daily basis.”
Jin Lee Palen, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Community Mental Health Programs, writes that, “Our clients benefit from this FREE service, accessing treatment much faster. We all know timing is critical to accessing mental and chemical health services. Yet, too often, our staff struggled to find openings for clients when they are ready to start treatment.”
Ruth Parriott, CEO of the Twin Cities Medical Society and Twin Cities Medical Society Foundation, writes that, “Twin Cities Medical Society Foundation has been a steadfast supporter of the Fast-Tracker program, established by the Minnesota Mental Health Community Foundation, since its inception.” And that, “The Fast-Tracker Program has proven to be an excellent (free) on-line resource to not only the physician community where they are able to post and promote real-time availability of mental health services/appointments, but also to the community as a whole as they are able to readily locate and access local services and resources at their time of need, including access to licensed addiction treatment programs.”
The numbers reinforce why these organizations support Fast-Tracker. For example, from July through the end of September of 2019, the substance use disorder side of Fast Tracker had nearly 3,000 different users. The average time they spent on the site searching was 1 minute and 40 seconds — evidence that users were likely to be both in the right place and finding what they are looking for.
Fast-Tracker has been out and visible in the community as well. Staff are frequent participants at community events throughout the state, such as Farmfest, Stomp Out Suicide, the Walk for Recovery at the Capitol, the NAMI Walk in Minneapolis, and Mental Health day at the State Fair. They’ve offered training to case managers across the state and visited college campuses.
Their twice-monthly newsletter is reaching mental health and substance use treatment professionals with updates from Fast-Tracker and the behavioral health community, and they’ve done intensive outreach to counties and treatment programs across Minnesota.
It seems clear that Fast-Tracker is off to a fast start. But we are not stopping there. Now we ask both what’s the future of Fast-Tracker, and how can we continue to improve how people can get the services they need when they need them?
At DHS, we continue to work to improve mental health care by building a spectrum of services to better meet individual needs. From mobile crisis services to intensive residential treatment services, from children’s therapeutic services and support to psychiatric residential treatment facilities for children, we need to be able to provide the right services for each person.
We continue to work toward substance use disorder treatment reform because we need to decrease barriers for people seeking treatment services. We are working to make sure people get timely access to treatment services and that people have a choice in a continuum of services that match their needs.
In the past two years, Minnesota has made several improvements to substance use disorder treatment services. These improvements include expanding services such as withdrawal management, telemedicine, peer services, treatment coordination/care coordination.
We are continuing to work to make sure Minnesotans can access treatment services just like they can access other health care services, by choosing the provider directly. There remains a lot of work to do, but we are working with many communities and partners around the state to make this a reality.
Meanwhile, there is a range of needed changes still ahead of us, all complex, difficult to explain, and all very, very important. (Go to mn.gov/dhs/sudreform/ for more information). In short, we are always working to make sure Minnesota’s substance use disorder and mental health treatment system is not only the best in the country, but that it meets the needs of each person seeking services.
To that goal, Fast-Tracker has been, and will continue to be, a key piece of the puzzle.
People interested in treatment can find treatment programs and information about availability at www.fast-trackermn.org.
Neerja Singh is the Deputy Director, Behavioral Health Division at the Minnesota Department of Human Services