HealthFinders Behavioral Health: Bridging Communities to Mental Wellness

In the heart of Minnesota, HealthFinders Behavioral Health stands as a beacon of hope for communities struggling to access essential healthcare services. Founded in the early 2000s, this small nonprofit integrated care clinic was born out of a direct plea from the community, where individuals found themselves unable to access necessary medical attention due to various barriers, including legal status issues and financial constraints.

Starting humbly with a group of volunteers in the basement of a church in Dundas, HealthFinders has since expanded its reach, operating three clinics in Northfield, Faribault, and Owatonna. The organization's mission revolves around addressing not only medical needs but also dental care, advocacy, and wellness programming. They serve as a vital bridge between healthcare providers and the community, offering a range of services from medical consultations to connecting individuals with community resources and organizations, overcoming language barriers, and coordinating comprehensive care plans.

One of the standout features of HealthFinders is its commitment to holistic wellness. Recognizing the importance of physical activity in maintaining overall health, the organization provides opportunities for community members to engage in activities like Zumba, boxing, and yoga classes. Additionally, initiatives such as community gardens behind the Faribault clinic promote healthy eating habits and education on managing chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

In recent years, HealthFinders has expanded its focus to include behavioral health and substance use services in response to the growing mental health needs within the community. Before Kelli Nowak, MA, LPCC joined HealthFinders as the Director of Behavioral Health Programs, Lee Zuniga, LADC, Substance Use Disorder Treatment Director, held substance use groups, and the demand for these discussion groups grew. In March 2022, Nowak and her colleague Zuniga established and made the mental health branch at HealthFinders more consistent. There was previously one therapist who saw people in the clinic and in schools but left during COVID.

This expansion has seen the establishment of a dedicated mental health team, comprising licensed therapists and community health workers who provide support and assistance to individuals struggling with various mental health issues and substance use disorders.

“We now have 7 substance use team members who serve within education, prevention, early intervention, recovery, and active users,” Nowak shares. With this expansion, HealthFinders have also initiated education within schools. “Kids have grown up so fast. We’re starting to see more of the hardcore drugs in middle schoolers or even early elementary school students.”

Nowak shares that the substance use team at HealthFinders takes a unique approach compared to other treatment centers. The team adopts a strength-based and trauma-informed model that meets individuals wherever they are on their journey to recovery. Unlike traditional programs, HealthFinders does not impose strict criteria for participation or enforce sobriety mandates. Instead, they prioritize harm reduction and provide support tailored to each individual's version of recovery and recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to overcoming substance use disorders.

“We won’t kick people out of the program. We are very much focused on reducing the harm of substance use, and we support people with their definition of recovery.”

"Without Rice County Area United Way, none of this [services] would happen."

A crucial aspect of HealthFinders' success lies in its deep roots within the community and its unwavering commitment to serving those most in need. Despite facing challenges such as limited resources and funding constraints, the organization continues to expand its reach and impact, thanks to the partnership with Rice County Area United Way and dedicated volunteers who contribute their time and expertise to support the cause.

“Systems are broken because people don’t care about heath care. Without Rice County Area United Way, none of this [services] would happen. People would just suffer and die. We can’t do this work without grant funding.”

As HealthFinders Behavioral Health continues to grow and evolve, it remains grounded in its mission to empower individuals, families, and communities to achieve optimal health and well-being one step at a time. Through compassionate care, innovative programs, and a commitment to equity and inclusion, HealthFinders is making a tangible difference in the lives of those it serves by proving that access to quality healthcare is not just a privilege but a fundamental human right.

Written by Masyn Rykhus