Regina Ertz, Ph.D., Fort Belknap Tribal Health Behavioral Health Program Director
Regina Ertz, Ph.D., is this year’s Mignon Waterman Award recipient in recognition of her leadership of Fort Belknap Tribal Health’s Behavioral Health Program and her innovative efforts to make mental health services widely available with the Fort Belknap Indian Community.
The award also recognizes Fort Belknap Tribal Health’s leadership in taking over the responsibility and governance of its behavioral health program from the federal government and its success in building a behavioral health program to address the needs of its community more effectively.
“This has been an incredible journey joining with the Fort Belknap Indian Community, with the goal to bring readily available and consistent behavioral health services to the community. I’m honored to earn the trust of our Patients and the community, and I am committed to continuing our path of progress for our People, Oyáte. Our program success wouldn’t have been possible without the tremendous support and trust from our leadership, tribal health administration, our patients, and the community.” – Dr. Regina Ertz
As program manager/director of the Fort Belknap Tribal Health’s Behavioral Health Program, Dr. Ertz has demonstrated exceptional vision, leadership, and expertise through the development of a behavioral health program that has profoundly impacted the members of the Fort Belknap Indian Community, home of the Nakoda and Aaniih Nations. This is the first Mignon Waterman Award to recognize a tribal health or urban Indian health program.
Before Fort Belknap Tribal Health assumed management of its behavioral health program from the federal government’s Indian Health Service, less than 10% of the Fort Belknap Indian Community population received mental health services despite the significant need. Contributing factors included the community’s long history of trauma and deep stigmatization in seeking mental health services.
Dr. Ertz spearheaded the development of the tribally-led behavioral health program embracing a collaborative, trauma and diversity-informed approach to treatment. Her commitment to incorporating traditional American Indian values with innovative therapeutic practices has significantly improved the community’s relationship with accessing mental health services.
Within one year of the program’s implementation, behavioral health encounters increased by 3,100%. The tribe also reported a 92% decline in crisis response cases for the program’s Community Response Advocates.
Under Dr. Ertz’s leadership, the new behavioral health program offers intensive outpatient counseling, diagnostics, assessment, telehealth, and school-based behavioral health services. The program has developed improved policies and procedures, patient-friendly forms, a new separate EMR system, and a referral system that encourages other tribal departments and local schools to refer community members who may need mental health services.
Dr. Ertz also introduced more flexible options for accessing care by bringing on additional mental health telehealth providers. By providing this treatment option, longstanding barriers to accessing care – like remote location, limited childcare, unreliable transportation, and stigma – are significantly reduced.
“Patients have responded positively to our telehealth option as our clinicians provide exceptional telehealth care services. Telehealth services account for 48% of our overall patient care. Each of our clinicians demonstrates loyalty to our patients, and we’ve pushed to provide patients with ease of direct access to their provider.” – Dr. Regina Ertz
The impact of Dr. Ertz’s efforts extends beyond the clinic walls. She advocates for mental health awareness and destigmatization within the Fort Belknap Indian Community, empowering individuals to seek help. Her dedication to education and outreach has fostered a more informed and compassionate community. She actively seeks opportunities to build strong partnerships with other professionals, departments, organizations, and jurisdictions, resulting in projects that have the potential to define new standards of tribal health care.
Outside of her work on Fort Belknap, Dr. Ertz is also a member of the Montana School-Based Advisory Committee and works with other school-based health leaders around the state to provide leadership and education on school-based health in Montana.
Dr. Ertz is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in northcentral South Dakota. She completed her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of North Dakota and her internship/residency at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Her family has been instrumental in her success, with endless support and the willingness to take this journey with her at Fort Belknap Indian Community.
“We wholeheartedly endorse Dr. Ertz for this esteemed award and believe that her contributions should be celebrated and recognized on a broader scale. She is a beacon of hope and a driving force in the pursuit of equitable and ethical care for Fort Belknap tribal members. The impact of her work is far-reaching and profound. Moreover, her contributions have set a high standard for excellence in the field, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.” – Karen Yazzie, Fort Belknap Tribal Health Director & Dr. Jennifer Show, Fort Belknap Chief Health Officer
About the Award
In 2017, we created the Mignon Waterman Award to honor the life and legacy of our founding trustee, Mignon Waterman, who was a tireless advocate for behavioral health in Montana. Each year, we accept nominations for individuals who embody the spirit of the award and have significantly contributed to improving behavioral health in Montana. Learn more about Mignon, the award, and previous recipients here.