Community Minded,
Data Driven

This past March, the Knik Tribe launched its behavioral health program amid a growing understanding of the importance of maintaining mental health during the ongoing pandemic.

Shaping the program is Naidene Baechler, M.S.W. Social Work ’20. Despite only recently graduating, Baechler is more than ready for the role, having previously interned with the Knik Tribe during her M.S.W. curriculum.

More recently, the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States named her as one of three Arctic Indigenous Scholars for 2020, an honor awarded to individuals whose work exemplifies social, political and environmental issues in their communities.

Ultimately, Baechler’s focus is twofold: to resolve the high rates of suicide among the Alaska Native community and the increased number of missing and murdered Indigenous women through educational and economic equity.

“Systemic changes that need to happen, such as having mental health be part of the curriculum, can start addressing the here and now,” said Baechler. “Policies that make sure there’s equity in education can shorten the economic gap, especially in rural Alaska with higher suicide rates, which may be a key factor in those rates. So my focus has been looking at how we change and advocate on a policy level because that’s where it’s going to have a standing impact.”

Currently in a soft opening phase, Baechler and a small team relied on a community health needs assessment to prioritize the suite of services offered while they continue working with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to attain the licensing necessary to operate as a full-fledged behavioral health provider.

“If we’re helping one client or if we end up with a waiting list of 50 people, success is knowing that we’re providing a service that helps our community,” said Baechler. “When looking back at how this program came about and developed, it’s data-driven and research-driven and they’re showing that there is a need. So if we’re meeting that need in some way, that’s success.”