Miller Dwan’s Story

Confront challenges
Generate bold solutions

View more stories

Right now, we are facing a new public health threat. Accelerated but not solely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of anxiety and depression have grown to levels where virtually no one can ignore what is happening. HopeX is Miller-Dwan Foundation’s initiative to solve the mental health crisis and provide the healthiest region possible for the people who live here.

The Miller-Dwan Foundation has a long history of addressing the most pressing challenges facing our region with creative solutions such as:

  • Supported Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center’s innovative rehab programs.
  • Solvay Hospice House’s dignified end-of-life services.
  • Amberwing–Center for Youth & Family Well-Being’s youth mental health programs.

HopeX, multiply community healing 

Right now, we are facing a new public health threat. Accelerated but not solely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of anxiety and depression have grown to levels where virtually no one can ignore what is happening. A CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll put a number to it: 90% of Americans feel we are in a mental health crisis.

This initiative involves embracing a vision that encourages an even stronger bond between the Foundation and the community.

“Traci’s vision is that we need to start making a difference in the community by doing more outreach,” says Rick Gertsema, Miller-Dwan Foundation Senior Mental Health Advisor. “We know that there’s a crisis. We know that we have the passion. We know that we have the drive, and we have the desire to really help and make a difference in people’s lives.”

PM+: A game-changer

Phase 1 of HopeX is Problem Management Plus (PM+) which focuses on expanding the behavioral health workforce.

“We’re partnering with the World Health Organization (WHO), The New School for Social Research, and George Washington University to implement PM+,” Rick explains. “The Twin Ports is one of just two locations in the United States (alongside New York City) to implement this global mental health program.” 

“HopeX is Miller-Dwan Foundation’s initiative to solve the mental health crisis in our region,” says Traci Marciniak, Miller-Dwan Foundation President. “It came about as a direction from our board of directors. We really have a mission to provide the healthiest region possible for the people who live here.”

Regionally, in Douglas County, there is a ratio of 380 residents seeking mental health care to one provider. In the Twin Ports, it can take on average six weeks for someone needing care to get an appointment.

The amazing thing about PM+

  • It is delivered by trained non-clinical helpers who go through a comprehensive training program, followed by hands-on practice in the field under the supervision of experienced mental health professionals.
  • It is for people who are experiencing common mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, or stressful life problems. 
  • It bridges a crucial gap in the behavioral health services system by offering early intervention and equipping individuals with tools to prevent situations from escalating into crisis.

Where PM+ is in use, the waiting list for counseling services has been shortened because the program has addressed problems that could be solved without needing a visit to a professional counselor.

  • It enhances the ability to access mental health support because it takes place where people work, where they play, where they worship or where they are already receiving services from people they trust, in their community.
  • PM+ training has a multiplying effect: In 2024, Nearly 30 helpers will undergo training, with each capable of assisting 5 people, resulting in 150 individuals receiving help. If half of these helpers choose to become trainers, 15 trainers will each train 15 new helpers, leading to another 200+ helpers being trained and a total of 1,000+ people receiving assistance.

“We really have learned to say as a staff, ‘Why not?,’” says Rick. 

Traci gives much of the credit for what the Miller-Dwan Foundation has been able to accomplish in the past—and now with this big, bold HopeX initiative—to the Foundation’s donors.

“We have been so lucky as an organization. People in this community have really stepped forward and supported us in enacting significant positive change,” says Traci. “It really is amazing!”

Looking Forward

HopeX Phase II

“Phase two of HopeX is looking at how we increase options within Douglas County, Wisconsin,” says Traci. “We know that is an area that has substantial needs, but does not have a lot of options to be able to care for people within the community.” 

The Miller-Dwan Foundation, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Superior, has already identified priority needs in Douglas County including elevating peer support and focusing on gaps in mental health care for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities, as well as developing clear mental health workforce recruitment and retention strategies that include PM+.

HopeX Phase III

“We’ve also talked a great deal about phase three, which is really engaging families in care. We do a wonderful job at working with kids at Amberwing and we have some options for families as part of that care,” says Traci. “But what we recognize is that children come as a family unit, and we need to be able to provide resources, support and skills for parents and families as well, as part of a comprehensive behavioral health program for kids and teens.”

Beyond Our Region

“The Miller-Dwan Foundation has always maintained a regional focus and will continue to do so,” says Traci. “Through our journey with HopeX and the PM+ program, we’ve discovered that we are not alone in our efforts.

After going through the PM+ training, I now have the tools to help with the stresses and mental wellness of people in my classes. I am forever a better fitness instructor and human being after going through PM+!” 

Heidi Rudstrom, ForeverWell Coordinator
    Duluth Area Family YMCA

“By partnering with institutions like George Washington University, the World Health Organization, and The New School for Social Research, we are building a dynamic team. We understand that many communities face similar challenges with limited mental health providers. Therefore, when we establish a new mental health workforce here in the Twin Ports, it will attract attention nationwide, inspiring others to replicate our efforts in their own communities. And, the dynamic team we’ve established to make ending the mental health crisis a reality here will be there to help other communities accomplish what we’ve accomplished.”

Introducing the first PM+ community-based organizations 

On January 18, 2024, fourteen hand-selected individuals from the following seven community-based organizations became the first group of helpers to go through PM+ training.

  • Duluth Area Family YMCA
  • Duluth Human Rights Commission
  • indiGO
  • St. Louis County Health and Human Services
  • Trans Northland
  • Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center
  • Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA)

This is only the beginning. As the program advances, year after year, Miller-Dwan Foundation will actively seek the involvement of more and more organizations from the broader region.

Stay connected to Miller-Dwan Foundation


More results...

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Stay connected to Miller-Dwan Foundation

Together we will realize our shared vision of a community free from mental health crisis.