PrairieCare: Joel V. Oberstar, MD, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Medical Officer

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PrairieCare is a freestanding psychiatric healthcare system based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., metro area. The organization provides a continuum of psychiatric services with an inpatient hospital, partial hospital programs, intensive outpatient programs, and traditional outpatient clinics.

PrairieCare aims to have a full array of services so that patients who transition between levels of care maintain continuity with staff. In mental health, trust between providers and patients is critical to achieving good outcomes. The highest level of care is inpatient hospitalization, followed by partial hospital. Partial hospital is offered for children and adolescents and involves about five hours of therapy and two hours of school a day, but the patients spend their evenings and weekends at home, so it is less disruptive for families. Intensive outpatient programs for adults and children involves about three hours a day of therapy.

“We find that continuity of care is helpful for patients and families,” said Joel Oberstar, MD, chief executive officer, and chief medical officer. “Patients are able to go from one level to another without having to meet a new group of people.”

With the continuity of care offered at PrairieCare, the organization is placing more emphasis on evaluating clinical outcomes. Dr. Oberstar said PrairieCare is benchmarking length of stay, clinical outcomes, and cost of care.  Strong efforts are made to ensure that patients receive high-quality care in as least restrictive a setting as possible.

“We are poised to demonstrate outcomes in terms of hospitalizations and readmissions,” he said. “By having different levels of service, a patient can go from an outpatient clinic to three hours of intensive outpatient care rather than to a hospital, which is more cost effective and more pleasant for patients and their families.”

Managing rapid growth

Although the organization is still relatively small, it has seen tremendous growth during the past two years. PrairieCare has three locations–Maple Grove, providing inpatient hospital and partial-hospital programs for children and adolescents; Edina, providing clinic and intensive outpatient therapy for adults; and Woodbury, with adult intensive outpatient and clinic visits for all ages. The organization is planning to add a fourth location with an additional partial-hospital program for children and adolescents.

The Edina facility recently moved from a 10,000 square-foot facility to a nearly 24,000 square-foot facility that will provide additional partial-hospital program capacity for children, adolescents, and families and an adult intensive outpatient program. In Minnesota, a hospital system needs legislative approval to expand inpatient capacity, and in 2011, PrairieCare received approval to build an additional 30 beds.

The transition has been exciting, but it has also been challenging to manage the growth. Ensuring that all stakeholders are consulted across multiple locations and ensuring that staff receives proper education has been a challenge with such rapid growth. PrairieCare instituted an online training tool to provide information to all providers across all locations.

Recruitment is a challenge for many healthcare organizations, but Dr. Oberstar said PrairieCare has been successful in recruiting talented psychiatrists and staff, despite a national shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists. He credits the fact that the organization is physician-owned and run as a major factor in bringing on new staff.

Community partnership steers the future

PrairieCare remains committed to educating the community about its services.

“I have been struck by the unmet need in our area, particularly for children and adolescents,” Dr. Oberstar said. “I have been excited to work with clinicians and providers to expand access to care. We pride ourselves on being part of the community.”

In Minnesota, suicide is the third leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14 and is the second leading cause of death for individuals 15 to 34. PrairieCare works with the community to increase education about mental-health issues. One of the group’s social workers spends much of her time on education programs with schools and community groups.

By still maintaining a reasonably small size, Dr. Oberstar said PrairieCare is able to also maintain flexibility in tailoring programs to the community’s needs. The organization is surveying former patients to create an evidence-based intensive outpatient program for young children with externalizing disorders, which include acting out, aggression, and mood dysregulation.

In addition to working with schools and community groups, PrairieCare has a strong affiliation with the University of Minnesota Medical School, bringing in fellows and clinical faculty to practice.

The affiliation also provides a framework for collaborative research ventures between university faculty and PrairieCare staff. The two organizations are considering a research project that would seek to identify predictors of response to an evidence-based approach to managing externalizing disorders.

All of this progressiveness is due in part to ambitious leadership and innovative solutions, making Dr. Oberstar’s confidence in PraireCare’s future anything but unfounded as it continues to influence and better the lives of people in its community.

-by Patricia Chaney

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

R P March 19, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Hi we are a professional transportation company based in the twin cities, wondering how we can help with transportation services for patients. Who can I talk to? Or how can we get involved? Thank you much.



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