Petersburg Mental Health Services has received a three-year accreditation for its behavioral health outpatient treatment programs, a first for the local mental health non-profit organization.

PMHS announced the distinction in late February. It was awarded by CARF International, an independent non profit that reviews health and human service providers.

PMHS executive director Susan Ohmer said accreditation is a recent requirement from the state. “Well on a very basic level what it means is that we will be allowed to continue to receive grants from the state of Alaska,” she said. “That’s been a requirement that they’ve added over the last few years. And we’re one of the first people, or first agencies that have achieved it and we achieved a three-year accreditation which is very exciting.”

To earn the designation, PMHS had to demonstrate that it met standards for its programs and services that are “measureable, accountable and of the highest quality.” Ohmer said during the accreditation, Mental Health staff worked hard to make sure the organization met standards for how it operates as a business. “What has been good about this process is that it has narrowed some of our focus in terms of it, it describes pathways to excellence for agencies of our kind. That has given us a roadmap to that. So I’ve been please with that and I’ve been pleased with the number of strengths that they identified in our survey.”

PMHS provides mental health and substance abuse counseling for all ages and has been operating in Petersburg for two decades. The ability to continue to secure state grants is becoming more important for the organization as the state looks at cutting funding for many programs. Ohmer said about a third of the PMHS budget is made up of state funding and calls that money crucial.

The local mental health service agency is nevertheless reducing staff, from five clinicians down to two because of a loss of other funding. “We’re victims of our own success in a way,” Ohmer said. “We were able to over the last five years increase our clinical coverage and increased the things that we did through extra grants and contracts that we took in and worked hard to achieve. Unfortunately those programs are just ending. They’re not being renewed, they’re just going away. And so what we will have is a reduced staff trying to do the same amount of service. So we’re working on being very creative and thinking outside the box.”

Ohmer says demand for mental health service in the community is NOT going down, it’s increasing.
Other mental health organizations that want to continue receiving state grant money have until the end of June to complete a similar accreditation, although the state has proposed pushing back that deadline one year.