Dan Cousins: 'I’m Closing My Clinic Due To Interference From Sawyer County DHS'

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 | by Steve Briggs |

Dan Cousins, owner, and operator of Northwoods Behavioral Health Services, LLC. of Sawyer County (NHBS) says he will close his clinic Wednesday, Feb. 28, “due to constant resistance from Sawyer County Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) to using my services.”

Typically, Cousins says, if a county’s DHS department does treatment assessments for drug abuse, OWI for driver safety plans and then refers clients for mental health services and AODA (Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse) treatment among the private companies in the area. He says Sawyer DHS has refused to send clients to him. “A business can’t stay open without clients,” he said.

Cousins says part of the Human Services Department name is Sawyer County Information And Referral Center, but he got very few referrals in his year of operating Northwoods.

Cousins believes two DHS employees, in particular, Sawyer County AODA and Mental Health Coordinator Joe Bodo and Sawyer County Behavioral Health Clinic Director Alicia Carlson. “They have systematically shut me out by refusing to send clients to me. When clients want to come to me for services, they emphatically persuade them not to use my clinic,” Cousins alleges.

Further, Cousins says, the two filed a complaint with the state examining board, claiming Cousins was running an unlicensed clinic and operating outside the scope of his licenses.

Cousins counters that when he opened the doors in December 2016, he was not operating it as a clinic but as a counseling service. “If they had concerns about what services I was providing, a simple phone call or personal visit to me would have cleared that up.”

“When NBHS opened, I notified the county of who we are and what we do,” he said. “I went through the long process of opening up files and having the state examiner come in and look everything over. That takes a few months, so we became a licensed Wisconsin AODA clinic facility effective March 1, 2017.

“Those first three months we were open, I told people I was providing services based on my education as a Licensed Social Worker and Licensed Substance Use Disorder Counselor. I was very clear that I could only provide educational-based services. We didn’t have a clinic license yet, but I wasn’t providing clinical services.

“Actually,” he said, “I have a few different licenses. I am a licensed, Advanced Practice Social Worker with an MSW (Masters in Social Work) Degree. I am a Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor, which is the highest level you can get in that category. I am a Clinical Supervisor In Training, and also an Intoxicated Driver Program - Approved Trainer. I have been going to school a long time.”

Cousins said “A client told me ‘Joe Bodo did everything he could to persuade me from coming to your clinic, short of telling me I couldn't come to you. The client said, ‘He just kept trying to get me to go somewhere else.’

Cousins states, “Up until now, I’ve bitten my tongue about this. My faith has told me it’s best to repay evil with kindness, but this action by DHS employees has had an impact on clients too. I am going public because I want people in this county to know what is going on.”

“Look at my Facebook page,” Cousins said. “Since I announced I was closing, there has been an outpouring of positive remarks.  No one (other than DHS) has anything negative to say about me personally or about the clinic as an entity. Unfortunately, the county is the central heartbeat of these programs, and they have been putting out a lot of negative (comments) to clients about me personally and about my clinic.”

He cites an example of DHS's lack of cooperation: “A client’s mother came to me and said, ‘I was going to have my son come and see you, but he was told at the STOP program that your clinic doesn’t take state insurance.’ Well, that is false,” Cousins said. 

STOP Program Founder 

Cousins is a former employee of Sawyer County DHS, most recently from 2008 to 2013. Cousins says he implemented and ran the Sawyer County Traffic Offender Program (STOP) while he worked there, a program still in use. 

State investigation status unclear

Cousins says he learned of the clinic license investigation in June 2017 and filed an 18-page reply in early July. He said he has "not heard a word” from the state since he filed his documents.

“I firmly believe I am no longer under investigation,” he said. “It’s been eight months and I have not heard a thing. If anything egregious was found in my actions, the state board would have come in here and shut me down quicker than you can say hello.”

In-house vs. private services

Cousins expresses frustration with some DHS practices and with the Sawyer County Board of Supervisors for going along with it. 

Cousins says, “I appeared before the Sawyer County DHS Board and said, ‘Look at your record. The budget is all public information. I said ‘You’re about ready to pass a $780,000 deficit budget. You’re going to go into the 2018-19 year with the knowledge that you’re going to need to levy three-fourths of a million dollars.”

Later they passed the budget with the deficit. Cousins says it’s the fourth consecutive year of an increasingly bigger deficit budget for the Sawyer DHS Department.

Cousins stated “That makes no fiscal sense. They could cut out some of the programmings they do in their department. They could send it to the licensed practices, and save the county a lot of money like other counties do. And, I said, I should be eligible to be an equal participant in getting those referrals.

“Most counties around here — Ashland, Rusk, Price, Douglas among them— outsource assessments and their AODA and mental health services because it’s so expensive for the county to do it. So they all contract it out, except for Sawyer.

He also feels Sawyer DHS is violating state policy. By state rules, the county as an assessing agency for driver safety plans, cannot refer a person back to itself, Cousins says. “There is a variance in rural counties that if there is no other provider, then the county can refer clients back to the county.

“Ten years ago there were only two providers — DHS and LCO Behavioral Health. But now in Sawyer County, you had four private providers and you still have three after I close, so in theory, Sawyer County should not refer a single person from a driver safety plan back to themselves.

Both a personal and professional perspective

"Why do they dislike me?” Cousins asks. “I am outspoken and I am a convict. In 1999 I was sentenced in Ashland County to prison for five years for possession of marijuana, about a quarter of an ounce. That was a three-year sentence. For a possession of a marijuana smoking pipe, I got a two-year sentence. After two years, in 2001 I got out. I am not a felon, but I have been to prison. I am greater than the sum of my individual parts, as we all are. It is difficult to climb out from under that stigma, but honestly, it is what allows me to be as effective as a counselor to those I work with. 

“I was a drunk. I was out of control. I had no filter. Now as a clinician, I know about addictions both from a personal standpoint and through my educational training. We all make choices, and we have consequences for those choices. These are reasons I may rub the public the wrong way sometimes, but my compassion for the client is unwavering.”

“I have been sober since Dec. 10, 1999, so I have been sober for over 18 years. I have been married to the same woman for nearly 17 years and a resident of Hayward all that time. I have two sons, including one going into the Marine Corps.” 

Considering his options

With the clinic closed, Cousins said he is not sure what will he do next. “I am still employed in the area,” he said. What I am looking at now is possibly starting one or more long-term inpatient facilities.”

In conclusion, Cousins said, “It may sound bitter, but I want the local area people to know that the interference from the Sawyer County DHS is why we are closing. They keep bringing up that we are under investigation but it is all unfounded. Months have gone by and nothing has happened. They have shunned me and driven me out of business.”

“I would do my job for free if someone else would pay my mortgage. The addict who is in the throes of addiction needs someone who shows compassion, love and hope when they have given up on themselves. We had 634-HOPE as our office phone number because that is the message we were trying to spread.

“When an addict takes the bold step to get better and is willing to say ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so and I’m an addict,’ unfortunately society puts a stigma on that person right away. So our goal has been to keep the message positive and to show faith in people who are trying to make their lives better.”

Cousins said, “Please feel free to call the clinic (715-634-HOPE) or send a message on FB or our Website if you have any questions (www.northwoodsbehavioralhealthservices.com).

Editor's Note: We reached out to both Sawyer County AODA and Mental Health Coordinator Joe Bodo and Sawyer County Behavioral Health Clinic Director Alicia Carlson seeking comment for this post but neither returned our calls.

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