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Independent mental health provider in Cloquet expanding to Duluth

Duluth News-Tribune - 9/2/2019

Sep. 2--If your image of psychiatric professionals tends toward the stuffy, Tim Weber quickly explodes that stereotype.

Breezily greeting visitors in a first-floor waiting room at Cloquet'sCommunity Memorial Hospital, he's dressed casually, and what stands out -- what really destroys the stereotype -- is that he's wearing a baseball cap backwards.

He's asked if he'd be willing to keep the cap on when photos are taken, but he didn't need to be asked. He wears it when he's seeing patients, the 35-year-old nurse practitioner says.

In his second-floor, rented office -- slightly disheveled desk, computer, comfortable armchair, comfortable couch, view of a roof -- Weber guzzled a Diet Coke while listening to questions.

If Weber needed a caffeine boost for this late-afternoon interview, it's not surprising. He had reported to the hospital at 8 the night before at his other job, working the overnight shift as a family nurse practitioner in the emergency department and in the inpatient medical unit.

It was while working in that job over the past three years, Weber said, that he perceived a pressing need for mental health services in the region.

It was frustrating for him, Weber said, discharging a patient and recommending that he make an appointment to see a mental health professional while knowing that it could be as long as six months before he could be seen.

"If somebody needs mental health help, they don't need it in six months," Weber said. "They need it now."

A shortage of mental health providers is an ongoing issue in the region. Organizations led by the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Minnesota recently complained that Essentia Health and St. Luke's construction plans in Duluth don't include additional psychiatric beds.

The challenge may be compounded by an aging workforce. The United States has about 28,000 psychiatrists, and three out of five of them are 55 or older, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Weber is doing his piece to change the situation. The Duluth native and son of a psychiatric nurse earned his psychiatric certificate a year ago, giving him prescribing privileges. In March, he started seeing patients at his company, WebMed LLC (Web for Weber, not for the internet), conveniently renting space in the place where he already worked.

The arrangement is slightly awkward. Although Weber is on the second floor, the reception desk, staffed by office assistant Jasmine Kirsh-Binner, is on the first floor. The spacious, comfortable waiting room isn't technically part of the WebMed setup but isn't used much otherwise, Kirsh-Binner said.

At the start, WebMed was a one-man shop. Kirsh-Binner, who has a background working in psychiatric and psychological offices and knew Weber through her sister, signed on in July. They relate almost as business partners.

"Jasmine basically runs the company," Weber said.

When asked if he was fully booked, Weber hesitated, but Kirsh-Binner quickly answered, "Yes."

"I feel like I could always do more work," Weber put in. "But if Jasmine says yes I'm not going to disagree."

Nonetheless, WebMed is accepting new patients, and the wait time for a new patient to see Weber currently is at two weeks.

Except for Facebook posts, WebMed hasn't advertised its services. Patients have come anyway.

"I wanted to slowly get into it, (but) it was not really walking into a kiddie pool," Weber said. "It was more of jumping into the deep end."

But he's not retrenching, he's expanding. WebMed will open an office in the Wells Fargo building in downtown Duluth in mid-September, staffed by Weber on Thursdays, initially. He has hired a second provider who should be able to start within a couple of months, he said.

He interviewed three more people last week, Weber said, and he might end up hiring all three of them. He hopes to contract with long-term nursing facilities in Hermantown, Duluth, Cloquet and Moose Lake to bring care to what he sees as another underserved population.

"The resources that are being provided to a lot of the nursing homes are very limited, and for people to get to appointments creates major issues for them," Weber said. So WebMed would go to the facilities.

Weber said he often sees patients with a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder and mental illness. "That's not the only patient population that I will see, but ... it's a patient population that I really enjoy focusing in on."

His services are covered by Medicare and Medical Assistance (Minnesota's Medicaid program) and most commercial insurers. The major exception -- Health Partners -- is expected to be set up for WebMed within a month, Weber said.

Those without insurance are charged on a sliding scale.

"I'll work with anybody and everybody, really," Weber said. "I got into this business to help people. That's why I went to a smaller company and did it myself."

To learn more

For appointments or more information about WebMed LLC, call (218) 310-8896 or visit webmedmn.com.

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(c)2019 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)

Visit the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.) at www.duluthnewstribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 
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