Heather Wilson begins seeing patients Monday as the Greene County Medical Center’s first in-house behavioral health provider. The hire of Wilson, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, helps fulfill a major need in the area. ANDREW McGINN | JEFFERSON HERALDHeather Wilson left her job as a nurse in the Women’s Health Clinic at the Greene County Medical Center to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Newly board certified, she was snatched back up to work in the Greene County Family Medicine Clinic. ANDREW McGINN | JEFFERSON HERALD

Wilson to provide much-needed mental health services

By ANDREW MCGINN

a.mcginn@beeherald.com

Two things happened in 2019: The conversation continued about the need to address the nation’s mental health, and a meaningful conversation began about a growing disparity between urban and rural America.

It’s probably not a coincidence, then, that residents of Santa Clara County, California — as home to Silicon Valley, one of the most affluent counties in the United States — have far greater access to mental health providers than do residents of Greene County, Iowa.

In Silicon Valley, there’s one mental health provider for every 310 residents, compared to one for every 1,500 residents here.

The Greene County Medical Center is looking to bridge that divide with the hire of its first in-house behavioral health provider.

Heather Wilson, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, begins seeing patients Monday at the Greene County Family Medicine Clinic.

“People have come up to me and said, ‘I can’t wait until this happens,’” Wilson, 43, explained, “whether for themselves, a family member or just knowing the community needs it.”

A longtime Greene County resident, Wilson saw a deep need for psychiatric services locally when she left her job as a nurse at the medical center’s Women’s Health Clinic in 2017 to pursue a master’s degree from St. Louis-based Maryville University.

“Wouldn’t that be a wonderful service to offer the community?” she asked hospital administration. “It snowballed from that.”

“Every rural community has a huge need,” Wilson added.

Newly board certified after finishing graduate school in August, Wilson frankly can’t start soon enough for the existing providers at the Greene County Family Medicine Clinic.

“When do you start?” was their first question, Wilson said.

Wilson hopes to be able to spend more time with her patients — time the family providers often don’t have.

“People cover up very well sometimes,” she said of mental health issues. “Give it time. They’ll talk about it when they’re ready.”

Wilson is able to provide some therapy, but will focus mostly on medication management for such disorders as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorder, ADHD, autism and substance abuse, among others.

While pursuing her degree, she worked part-time at Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines as an inpatient mental health nurse.

“The needs far outweigh the resources,” she said in reference to the nation’s mental health crisis. “To reduce the stigma, we tell people to get help, but you might not get in for a while.”

And in rural Iowa, people without access to transportation may not get in at all — a problem remedied by Wilson’s hire.

Neighbors in surrounding counties may find Wilson more convenient as well. 

Residents in Guthrie County have access to even fewer mental health providers, according to data from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, at one for every 5,340 residents. In Calhoun County, there’s one mental health provider for every 4,870 residents.

The Iowa average is one for every 700 residents.

Wilson spent most of her 22 years as a nurse in labor and delivery, where she found she had an instinctual ability to identify postpartum depression in new moms.

“Not everyone has the insight to catch it,” she said, which spawned a need for additional education, screening tools and follow-ups. “The awareness has definitely improved over the years.”

Mental health isn’t a subject Wilson has ever shied from, saying, “It’s always been very comfortable for me.”

A southern Iowa native, Wilson lost her husband, Rob, a Paton native, to a farming accident in 2013. He was only 41 and left behind three young boys — ages 5, 9 and 11 at the time.

“Sometimes you don’t move on,” Wilson explained, “you just move forward.”

Wilson knows from experience what it’s like to have to arrange to drive out of town for mental health services. After their dad’s death, the kids began seeing a provider in Des Moines until a change in the family’s insurance required them to see a provider in Fort Dodge.

Either way, help for kids like hers is now closer to home than ever.

Wilson also plans to treat adults and the elderly.

She hopes that as the conversation continues about mental health, people come to see it like they do their physical health.

“If someone breaks their arm, they’re not going to wait until it falls off before they come in,” Wilson said. “Mental health is the same. If you think something’s going on, get it checked out.

“It shows people you’re not alone.”

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