Inside APN’s Mission To Mesh Tech With Human Touch To Deliver Accessible Mental Healthcare To Every Veteran

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About a year ago, I posted a story about Colorado-based healthcare company All Points North releasing results of a survey which examined mental health and other factors of veterans adjusting to civilian life. As I wrote, All Points North (APN) provides rehabilitation programs specially designed for military veterans. The company has treatment centers located in Colorado and California, as well as an APN Connections app, available on iOS and Android, that offers virtual services and more.

Earlier this year, I sat down with APN CEO Noah Nordheimer and APN clinical manager of its traumatic stress program Lana Seiler to discuss mental health and how the company is making care accessible to people. As I’ve written numerous times, mental health, disability, and tech intersect in meaningful ways; mental health conditions have the potential to be as disabling as any physical disability. What APN does, particularly with its app, is give greater access to care to every veteran.

Nordheimer explained he stated APN partly due to his background working with disadvantaged populations, then moving into behavior health 13 years ago. Prior to APN, he worked with Medicare and Medicaid recipients who were living below the poverty line. He became frustrated at the notion the people using these programs had limited opportunity to receive newer and more modern modalities for treatment.

“That was the genesis for me building APN—I wanted to chase outcomes,” Nordheimer said. “I wanted to do more innovative things, and I felt as though what I was able to do in the Medicaid and Medicare space was really limited. Ultimately, that’s how I came to build APN was a desire to improve the model of care, to improve the continuum and develop something that was truly forward-thinking. I knew I had to do that. the upper end of the market, where commercial insurance could reimburse where people have the ability to self-pay. Hopefully, over time, a lot of what we learn at APN gets pushed to a broader audience.”

The choice to start APN was also a deeply personal one. He candidly described himself as “somebody who has been impacted by a chemical dependency to opioids” after his doctor prescribed them. Moreover, Nordheimer is a person who has been impacted by anxiety and depression and alcoholism,” adding that “you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in this country who hasn’t been touched by these things.” For Nordheimer, he’s an ardent believer in the idea that a person’s mental health and physical health are inextricably interconnected.

“I think you can’t treat these things in a silo. Our mental health and our physical health have to be treated concurrently for any of us to truly be healthy,” he said of the current separation of viewpoints. “I think because of stigma and fear and all of these things, mental health has been shame based for a long time where you were looked down upon for having taking a focus on your mental health or looking weak. We’re in a new day where things have evolved and changed, where people are realizing we have to have these conversations [and] we have to be okay talking about them. Our mental health will impact our physical health and vice versa. For us to truly be healthy, we have to address both.”

For Seiler’s part, she told me she’s been a licensed clinical social worker for the last decade, working primarily with trauma and traumatic stress disorders such as PTSD. Currently, Seiler, who’s host of a behavioral health podcast called Therapy Unboxed, is enrolled in a psychedelic therapy program. One ironic thing about Seiler having a podcast is she admitted she “doesn’t really listen to podcasts,” something which her show’s producers give her a hard time over. Still, she recognizes podcasts as an “enormous platform” and is committed on the conceit that “informed consumers are usually better consumers.”

“I talk about things we don’t normally get to like therapy,” Seiler said.

As to her work at APN, Selier explained she’s primarily a trauma therapist. She sees patients in group and individual sessions, as well as managing the company’s therapy program and writing a workbook for it. When asked why she decided on this industry for her life’s work, Seiler said she likes to joke “nobody becomes a therapist by accident,” Like Nordheimer, she experienced her own dose of trauma in her life and became keenly aware of the things happening around her like injustices and the like. These experiences, she said, “lit a fire under me” and she began to see therapy as something she’d excel in as her chosen career.

“The reason I chose social work was because I have this macro interest in informing and educating and helping us become a more trauma-informed system so we can treat people appropriately,” Seiler said. “Which, in the long run, will save all of us a lot of money in ER visits and jail stays and all these things that we spend tons of money on as a society that we can really save if we helped people in the right ways. That’s my driving force: I know trauma can be healed. It’s a psychological injury. I help people get away from this idea they’re permanently broken, and watch them heal and watch their lives change and spread the word.”

Part of delivering high-quality care means knowing your clientele and their needs. For APN, Nordheimer told me the company does a variety of things in a concerted effort to provide meaningful care. The company, he told me, does “robust assessments” of potential people to determine whether they’re a good fit. Additionally, specializing programming is created based on the need of various populations such as the LGBTQ community. “Everybody’s unique and has their own needs, but there’s a lot we can learn from different populations,” Nordheimer said.

“One of the things APN does is we build specific programming for those populations we specialize in; [it allows] us to really learn from the population and understand the needs and in deliver care that supports them as a community. Community is a big part of mental health—all of us are looking for community, we’re looking for support. We’re addressing these issues we’re seeing [by being] persistent in certain populations [and] we’re able to be more successful as a whole.”

Technologically speaking, Nordheimer said APN takes a hybrid approach. He believes the healthcare industry writ large is poised for a future where hybridity is the name of the game, where telemedicine and in-person support will co-exist and complement one another. Nordheimer noted the company sees “people going back and forth” between using the app for services, then coming in to join others for a fitness class. Nordheimer emphasized the importance of the APN app, saying it’s an integral piece of how APN stays in touch with its clients. It’s how they access virtual care, how they book in-person services, and more. All told, the APN app makes APN’s services more accessible to everyone in both senses—literal access and disability—of the term.

“I think it’s kind of that lifeline of knowing that they can reach out to us via technology,” Nordheimer said. “We’re seeing a lot of different AI tools and things can be supportive of clinicians in decision-making. We’re certainly seeing that with with documentation and care record. I think technology ultimately can support us in delivering care. I don’t think it can deliver care for us, though; I think human connection is a big part of mental health. Community is a big part of mental health. Technology, unfortunately, will not be able to solve those things for us.”

Seiler’s role with the company is mostly based in in-person interactions. She does, however, using Zoom and FaceTime to communicate with others, including yours truly. She noted she does “some really interesting things” in weekly trauma-focused sessions, saying they try lots of experimental techniques and modalities such as a somatic trauma therapy called sensorimotor psychotherapy, which uses body signals.

In an allusion to accessibility, Nordheimer noted people like the options APN provides because not everyone has the ability to leave home and get to and from the treatment center. He noted the company is seeing a “healthy” 50/50 split between remote care and in-person service, adding that the onset of the pandemic obviously caused a “big spike” in demand for virtual care followed by a “big wave” of clamoring for in-person later on. “I don’t think people should have to choose [modalities],” Nordheimer said. “We have to make it accessible to where they have the ability to decide one or the other, not exclusively do one or the other.”

Looking towards the future, Nordheimer said his big picture hope is to have mental health become increasingly part of the general health conversation and treated like the health concerns they truly are. He added society is slowly but surely pushing past the long-entrenched stigmas that historically have made mental health such a taboo topic. He believes APN can be drivers in carrying these conversations forward.

“I think that will help us in combating stigma and getting rid of shame and guilt and all these other things that come with the barriers to mental health. It [personal health] needs to be one conversation; we’ve got to treat things concurrently because physical health and mental health are interdependent upon one another,” Nordheimer said. “I think giving people continuum of care that incorporate all of these modalities, and not just incorporate them but communicate our primary care doctors in our psychiatrists or therapists need to all be on the same page with what’s going on with with each person that we’re treating. Communication amongst care teams is really important to us. If there was one thing I look toward in the future, it’s that we changed the conversation and dialogue about health to be one thing and have it be inclusive of all the things [to one’s overall health] that are important.”

From her perspective as a therapist, Seiler wholeheartedly agrees.

“It’d be great if anybody [policymakers and lawmakers] asked us therapists, because we have a really unique insight into human behavior and what makes people tick and the maladaptive needs, meaning strategies and traps that we get stuck in and you know how societally we could make things better and move forward,” she said. “I think bringing mental health care and emotional health care and behavioral healthcare into the forefront is only a win. It’s hard to see a downside to that—the more we break down the stigma, the more people will access care, the healthier and more balanced people will be in their jobs. There’s a term called ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’ and I see increased mental healthcare as that rising tide that can lift all the ships—people who are in law enforcement, in medical health care, in lawmaking, CEOs, bosses, all these people who are in positions that are influential can be coming from a place that’s from their own improved mental health and their own improved balance and life. That helps so many people exponentially, when [they] go back into the world [feeling in] a better place.”

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