Man with mask holding up bottle of disinfectant at Wilder Center

Wilder Mental Health Forges New Ways of Connecting with Telehealth


In a usual year, Wilder provides mental health and recovery services to more than 2,000 children, families and adults in the mental health clinic at Wilder Center, in schools and in the community.

2020 was no ordinary year.

The coronavirus upended in-person client meetings when it arrived in Minnesota in March. At the same time, the strain of the pandemic deepened existing mental health needs and created new needs where none existed. Wilder’s team of counselors, case managers, therapists, nurses and prescribers knew there would be an urgent need for accessible mental health services that balance physical safety and overall wellness. At the start of the pandemic, they paused to make and implement a plan that was carefully coordinated to meet clients’ needs by telehealth.

Pahoua Yang, vice president of Community Mental Health and Wellness, and other Wilder staff were among a group of mental health professionals who worked with our local and state government on changing regulations to make telehealth more accessible. Within Wilder, staff worked to make sure clients could access the mental health services they need by video, including adjusting billing practices, identifying and testing technology—even purchasing phones for clients who lack access or funds for technology. With these acts of ordinary magic, providers are now popping into clients’ lives through screens.



At Wilder, we have innovated to meet community needs for more than a century, and this year has been a perfect example. Through our new, primarily digital presence, we have the honor of supporting incredible growth, transformation, and resilience when it is needed most.

Pahoua Yang, vice president, Community Mental Health and Wellness

 Therapists Use Creativity to Connect and Deepen Relationships by Telehealth

Providers and families have found surprising benefits as they adjusted to meetings by video—after overcoming initial hiccups and hesitations. Six-year-old Kate had been coming to Wilder for over a year to slowly heal trauma from abuse and neglect prior to her adoption. Through play therapy, she and her family had been making progress in forming critical bonds of attachment and trust, until everything shut down. Distance learning hadn’t started well for Kate, so how could video work for something as
personal and physical as play therapy

After some troubleshooting, Kate and her therapist found a silver lining: For the first time, Kate was able to show her world to her therapist. Their therapeutic relationship was actually enhanced by this new level of deeper personal connection, and the family is again moving toward their goals.

Meanwhile, school-based therapists made quick adjustments to bring social-emotional learning and trauma-informed care into the distance learning equation. Wilder school therapists are present in 40% of Saint Paul Public Schools as well as other schools in the Twin Cities. Connecting through school-issued tablets to ensure every student could access care, therapists found opportunities to work with families in new and different ways. Through telehealth scavenger hunts, Minecraft explorations, and patty cake with siblings, therapists are supporting students in staying regulated and connected amid the uncertainty and change.

Woman holding expanding toy faces camera and smiles

Telehealth Preserves Access to Culturally Appropriate Care

Staff in our Assertive Community Treatment program, which helps adults experiencing severe and persistent mental illness stabilize, recover and stay in community, began working with a new client during the governor’s stay-at-home order. The client only spoke Burmese. Wilder staff brought a tablet to his home and taught him how to use it. The case manager, who is bilingual, then went to his car to maintain social distance, and joined a video conference to interpret for the client and facilitate the diagnostic assessment and intake meeting. With the video call, the psychiatrist, nurse, team lead and the client could all see
and interact with each other. “We would not have been able to do this if not for teletherapy,” says Barbara Williamson, Assertive Community Treatment team lead at Wilder.

Continued access to a culturally matched therapist is a major benefit of telehealth, along with the ability of therapists to safely maintain strong connections with clients at a time when many people are
experiencing new or increased mental health symptoms. “Success this year has meant keeping clients connected to care so that, together, we can navigate the many challenges we are all facing,” Pahoua says.

This Is Medicaid

Wilder serves in a coordination role for This is Medicaid, a statewide coalition of 50+ organizations in Minnesota working to protect Medicaid from harmful changes including threats to enrollment, benefits and services. In 2020, This is Medicaid worked to  protect access to medical, dental, chemical health and mental health as well as home and community-based services that help people maintain health and well-being.