More health care providers should begin to focus on behavioral health treatment for their patients, according to a 2021 report from the American Psychological Association. The Monitor on Psychology report said Americans have been profoundly impacted by the ongoing pandemic, political conflict, economic downturn and other factors, which could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation Health Services seeks to extend its offerings as well. As behavioral health becomes a bigger part of whole patient care, CPNHS patients will soon benefit from the construction of a new facility.

The U.S. Indian Health Service awarded $2 million to the CPN behavioral health department to build a 6,700 square foot clinic. The federal grant program is intended to help tribal nations construct, expand or modernize facilities.

“CPNHS has been very blessed,” said Dr. Adam Vascellaro, CPNHS director. “This award from IHS is the first one of its kind we’ve ever received. It says that we’ve matured enough as a health service to be able to qualify. We have 20,000 users and 10,000 active patients. There has been a lot of demand for behavioral health due to COVID, lockdowns, ill family members and personal illness. It’s been challenging.”

“Most behavioral health and substance use disorder programs I’ve visited around Oklahoma and the U.S. are housed in old or outdated buildings, often not designed with the unique needs of our patients in mind,” said Dr. Ryan Adams, CPNHS behavioral health coordinator and staff psychiatrist. “While our current building has served us well for many years, CPNHS patients will be excited to see that CPN values and is prioritizing behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment by constructing a brand new building designed from the ground up to serve the needs of our patients.”

The current clinic is 4,300 square feet with care provided by eight professional staff, including one psychiatrist, three psychologists and five counselors. The new building is expected to house more providers, therapy rooms, a larger space for group therapy and a planned observation deck.

“Our staff will have the space and resources necessary to affect their assessments and treatment modalities to the fullest degree since the building is being designed with those services in mind,” Adams said. “After growing in our current building to the point we had to repurpose so many areas, we are planning to once again have a dedicated conference room where we can come together to collaborate on cases, team build and help each other grow through educational events.”

Adams said while they haven’t finalized the specific treatment services that will be offered in the new building, the potential to add new services is great and will likely include bringing in additional providers and staff.

The Nation is one of the few behavioral health providers in Pottawatomie County, with more than half of the patients residing in the Shawnee and Tecumseh areas. The current waiting period to be seen by a provider averages two months. A larger facility will help the Nation provide quicker access to care, long-term patient monitoring and increased engagement for existing patients.

In a state hit hard by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and other challenges, Adams said he believes access to behavioral health services will continue to be necessary. Current CPN patients have been adversely impacted by financial or employment-related challenges; healthcare or illness; and many other stressors.

“Demand for behavioral health and substance use disorder services will continue to grow in the coming years,” Adams said. “As long as there is stress in the world, there will be a need for good, caring providers who can help people manage them.”

Recruiting providers to rural Oklahoma can be difficult for health care systems, Vascellaro said. Something as simple as offering new or updated facilities can help.

“Tribal health care facilities face challenges trying to recruit and retain providers, the turnover rate can be high, If we can deliver more comfortable care, so many little things matter,” Vascellaro said.

CPN applied for the federal funds in 2020. In fiscal year 2020, IHS awarded a total of $25 million to qualified applicants. The Nation received the maximum award amount of $2 million.

Applicants had to demonstrate their need for the project, capacity to deliver services and construction capability as well as its own financial contribution. On Nov. 12, 2020, the Nation’s legislature approved a contribution of $275,000 toward the project, bringing the total estimated project value to more than $2.2 million.

Once construction begins, it is scheduled to be completed within 24 months. The land for the facility sits only a half mile from the CPN East Clinic.

CPN integrates behavioral health into a patient’s primary care in order to support physical, emotional and mental well-being. Primary care providers often refer their patients to behavioral health, while many other patients are self-referred. The Nation’s behavioral health department offers patient-centered and cultural-based assessments and evaluations; evidence-based therapeutic services to individuals, couples and families; group therapy; medication evaluation and management; and crisis interventions to Indigenous people living in the area.

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation Behavioral Health Department is accredited through the Association for Ambulatory Health Care. Read more at