A Q&A with Lori Schmidt, Executive Director of Grafton’s Minnesota PRTC

Meet Lori Schmidt, Executive Director of Grafton’s upcoming Psychiatric Residential Treatment Center in Cold Spring, Minnesota. Lori has over 20 years of experience in the healthcare and nonprofit industry, and we’re thrilled to have her leading our Minnesota operations!

What made you want to work with children with special needs?

One of the best things about working with this population of children is seeing them grow. The transformation from when they first walk through the door to when they leave our care can be truly amazing.

Have you always been interested in this type of work?

My mom said she always knew it was something I would do. I’ve always given to others. That’s just who I am.

When I was in fifth grade, I volunteered in a group home as part of a school project. During my lunch break, I would help feed children with a severe spinal disorder, and I understood those kids weren’t as lucky as me. After that, I volunteered to work with kids with intellectual disabilities.

My family also played a big role in my desire to work with special needs youth. During church services, my parents always invited the children with intellectual disabilities to come and sit with us. We always wanted to do our part to ensure that people with disabilities felt included, so it came naturally to stick up for them. Back then, people with intellectual disabilities were very segregated and got sent away to group homes or institutions. They didn’t attend school with us, so it was really important in my family to invite them to be part of whatever they could.

What is your professional background?

I have degrees in psychology and law, and I started out as a social worker in the county system. Over the years, I’ve worked as a case manager, a mental health supervisor for adults and children, and as the executive director for a 300-employee mental health center in St. Cloud. More recently, I was Director of Behavioral Health Services at HealthPartners, a Minnesota organization that offers healthcare services and health insurance. My last position was as a Senior Associate at Open Minds, where I was doing consulting—and that’s where I connected with Grafton.

How did the relationship with Grafton develop?

My work at Open Minds was ending, so I reached out to Grafton about opportunities. I spoke with Jamie Stewart (Grafton’s CEO), and he mentioned that he may have an upcoming project in Minnesota. Then I started working with Scott Zeiter (Grafton’s Chief Operating Officer) on a contract basis to explore possibilities for opening a new psychiatric residential treatment center for children in the St. Cloud area. I essentially became their Minnesota expert.

During this time, Scott knew I was on the lookout for a full-time job. When everything was finalized with the new treatment center, he invited me to interview for the executive director position. It worked out perfectly, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Can you tell us about the new treatment center?

We’re about to start remodeling an existing building just outside of Cold Spring, which is about 18 miles southwest of St. Cloud. The center will serve up to 30 children and adolescents (ages 8-18) that have been diagnosed with co-occurring mental, intellectual, and/or behavioral health challenges. We’re providing education, life skills, housing, and a range of therapy services that will hopefully improve the quality of life for these kids. We’re hoping to open our doors in late October or early November.

Have you seen a need for this type of psychiatric residential treatment center in the area?

Definitely. The state of Minnesota actually submitted a request for proposal for psychiatric residential treatment facilities due to a shortage of programs here to serve children with mental health disorders. Grafton responded to the request, primarily to educate the state about the model they use in Virginia. They wanted to share their knowledge about working with clients with dual diagnoses and offer their support. The state responded by asking Grafton if they were interested in opening a center themselves, and the rest is history.

Working in the mental health field in Minnesota, I’ve also seen the need first-hand. One example that comes to mind is a story I heard from a social worker who works in an emergency room. They recently saw a child with a dual diagnosis brought in from a group home that couldn’t handle that child’s behaviors. Sadly, there was nowhere else for that child to go because no one would accept them due to their dual diagnosis. There are places that accept children with mental health diagnoses or disabilities, but not both. The child ended up sitting in the ER for about three days, until they were finally sent back to the group home. That’s not what we want to see. That’s what Grafton is going to be here for.

How are you preparing for the opening?

Construction on the building is about to begin, and then our main focus will be on hiring. We still need over 40 employees, including about 25 direct care staff, a Clinical Administrator, a Nurse Manager, therapists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, administrative staff, and a Medical Director specializing in psychiatry.

Abdus Samad, the Case Management Supervisor at Berryville, will be joining the team as Operations Administrator. I’m excited to be working with him and with Scott and Rob Johnson to bring this program online.

What would you say to someone who is thinking of applying to a job at the center?

You should apply because you would be working in a welcoming environment with some great people. We will be creating a great team. Grafton also has techniques to avoid using restraints on clients, so you would be working in a trauma-informed environment. This is a wonderful opportunity to help kids and have a rewarding career. We would be excited to have you here, as long as you’re committed to the work.