Oasis Counseling International

Life goes by like a rock skipping over the water.

That’s how Dr. Mark Stortvedt, executive director of Oasis Counseling, sees it. The center helps people who are knocked down by waves, so to speak, such as addiction or depression.

“If you skip a rock across the water, it can keep going, but if there’s a wave coming, it’s just going to knock it down,” he said.

But not everyone can afford counseling for various reasons — and this is where the United Way can help, by subsidizing appointment fees to $5 per session.

Based in Norfolk with a satellite office in O’Neill, Oasis offers mental health and substance abuse for patients through individual, group and intensive outpatient services. The organization served 1,772 clients last year, 33 of whom received United Way funding, in its 22-county service area.

The center is important because it’s in an “underserved area” with less support from mental health therapists and psychiatric providers, Stortvedt said, which sometimes cause people to drive to bigger cities to access services. Oasis has 16 therapists and three nurse practitioners to make mental health care accessible in Northeast Nebraska.

“No question, there’s a greater need than what we can meet for this service,” he said. “… There are programs that still are needed to be developed. There are youth psychiatric programs where kids they have to go to (Grand Island) or Omaha because there’s no residential or inpatient program for them in Norfolk. That’s a lot of transporting.”

By offering subsidized sessions to those who need it, Oasis tries to be affordable, as well as accessible, he said.

“One of our core convictions is we want to make services accessible to anyone who wants them. ... It takes a lot of courage to say, ‘I need help,’ ” he said. “If you come to an agency and you can’t get help, it’s harder to pick up the phone and call another. For a lot of people, that can be the thing that knocks them down, and we don’t want to do that to anyone.”

Although the monetary value that United Way supports in Oasis’ budget is about a third of a percent, it’s a huge difference for the patients who couldn’t otherwise afford counseling services.

“I had one mother, she came in herself and she was so helped, she said, ‘I have to get my husband to come in.’ He came in and they wanted to do marriage counseling. She realized she could do a lot better with her kids. They did family counseling,” he said. “She feels like it gave her new life. Things she thought would never work, all of a sudden they were relating to each other, they were doing things together that she never thought they could do as a family.”

Q&A with Oasis Counseling International

Executive director: Dr. Mark Stortvedt

What services does your agency provide, and who generally does it serve? Oasis Counseling is a faith-based, nonprofit behavioral health agency serving Northeast Nebraska with a main office in Norfolk and a satellite office in O’Neill. We provide quality, compassionate mental health care services, including counseling, psychological evaluations, medication management, substance abuse treatment and in-home family support. We offer therapy in English and Spanish and turn no one away because they lack the ability to pay.

In what way does the United Way assist you? The funding we receive from the United Way is used to subsidize therapy fees for those who do not have the financial means to pay for their counseling sessions, thus allowing more people with limited resources the ability to access a wide range of behavioral health care services when needed.

What percentage of your budget does the United Way fund? About a third of a percent (0.33%).

What are some new or ongoing needs that your agency is facing? Last year, Oasis served 1,772 clients, and funds from the United Way helped 33 of those individuals pay for 88 sessions. The need for mental health care and substance abuse treatment services in this community is ever-increasing. We could use additional funding for therapy subsidies, as well as for technology upgrades to our office. We also need funding, as well as volunteers, for our Befriend Mentoring Program, which is offered free of charge to all participants.

If your agency did not receive United Way funds, how would it impact your ability to serve others? Without United Way funds, many people would not be able to afford the help that they need. The cost of treatment often presents a barrier to low-income individuals and families, to the uninsured, and to those who are insured but have high deductibles. The United Way funds help to eliminate this barrier and opens the door for them to begin therapy sessions without it creating a financial burden.

Share a brief anecdote about how your agency has had an impact on the community as a whole or an individual who has been served: Madison County is in a federally designated shortage area for psychiatrists and mental health practitioners. Oasis has 16 licensed therapists on staff and three psychiatric nurse practitioners, as well as a strong internship program, to help alleviate this urgent need in our community both today and into the future.

Many agencies in Northeast Nebraska have chosen to do their psychiatry through telemedicine with providers from out-of-state, but our providers are local and can meet with you face-to-face. Additionally, one of the APRNs we recently hired to our psychiatry department specializes in pediatrics, so our medication management program can now see clients starting as young as age 6, which will have a significant impact on this community as a whole. Our agency has also impacted many individuals, including a middle-age woman who has been coming to Oasis for struggles with depression and medication management. Through our services, she is now functioning much better, living on her own and holding down a job.

In other news

The Norfolk Senior Citizens Center serves congregate meals Mondays through Fridays at noon. Reservations for the meals are needed. These should be made the day of the desired meal or prior to 9:30 a.m. by calling the senior center, 402-371-8299 or 402-371-3930.

You may be a flexitarian and you don’t even know it. It’s a new term that’s being thrown around the food diet groups. You’re likely to see books and many websites coming soon based on flexitarianism.