ND DHS continues social service, behavioral health overhauls

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The ND Department of Human Services is working on not one, but two major projects trying to improve the overall health of North Dakotans.

First, is working on the HSRI report.

The human services research institute presented a list of 65 recommendations in 2018 to state leaders detailing how to better serve North Dakotans with behavioral health needs. The legislature acted during session, appropriating $72 million to behavioral health issues. That's a $28 million increase from the previous two-year cycle.

For example, $4 million went to expand the Free Through Recovery program. This program started with people in the corrections system and trying to help them fight substance abuse- now it's going to be extended to people outside the corrections system. Some of the $28 million increase went to fighting the opioid crisis and early intervention services.

The Department of Human Services says now the focus is getting prevention, treatment and recovery services closer to where people live.

“When we look at serving individuals close to home, that impacts that whole continuum so when we look at people staying with their natural support, that's also going to help prevent criminal justice involvement which is another priority area,” said Laura Anderson, the Behavioral Health Division’s assistant director.

The second major task, continuing the state’s takeover of social service delivery from the counties.

The Department has come up with a draft of 19 new zones- a significant change from nearly every county handling social services on its own. These zones will be finalized by December.

The bigger areas like Bismarck and Fargo would be a stand-alone zone. Smaller counties join together. This change takes away 20 mills of property taxes counties charged for social services. DHS Director Chris Jones says social services are a function of the economy- meaning services aren't needed as much when things are good.

“The investments communities make in schools, their communities and their open living spaces and how they work together is really going to have a greater impact on whether services are utilized more or less,” said Jones.

December is when the zones will be finalized. The zones will need to hire a director by April 1, 2020 and have a final plan created by June 30, 2020