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Social worker out to fill gaps in Oil Patch care

CROSBY, N.D. - A recent University of North Dakota graduate is helping fill a shortage of social workers in the Oil Patch, and she hopes other students will join her.

Skye Albert, pictured Friday, July 24, 2015, in Crosby, N.D., works as a social worker for Divide County. Albert is a recent University of North Dakota graduate who benefited from a grant program that aims to alleviate the need for child welfare workers in the Oil Patch. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service
Skye Albert, pictured Friday, July 24, 2015, in Crosby, N.D., works as a social worker for Divide County. Albert is a recent University of North Dakota graduate who benefited from a grant program that aims to alleviate the need for child welfare workers in the Oil Patch. Amy Dalrymple / Forum News Service

CROSBY, N.D. – A recent University of North Dakota graduate is helping fill a shortage of social workers in the Oil Patch, and she hopes other students will join her.

Skye Albert, who works as a social worker in Divide County, is the first UND graduate to benefit from a grant program designed to fill a need for child welfare workers in oil-producing counties.

Albert, who has lived in Crosby for more than one year, enjoys the variety she gets working for a rural agency.

"It's nice because going in I knew I was going to be able to do everything," said Albert, 23, a native of Wyoming. "I'm going to walk away from this job with so much experience."

Oil development has fueled rapid population growth in western North Dakota, but many communities have struggled to recruit and retain enough social workers to assist with the rising caseload.

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Sam Pulvermacher, director of social services for Divide County, had been the sole social worker in the county for about a year when Albert was hired.

"That was chaotic," Pulvermacher said.

Now the agency has more resources, including someone to oversee Divide County's child-protective services cases along with cases in two other neighboring counties.

But the region continues to have a shortage of social workers, which is what the grant program aims to alleviate, said Carenlee Barkdull, chairwoman of UND's social work department.

"We're hoping to help make a dent," Barkdull said.

The $735,000 grant, awarded by the U.S. Children's Bureau, helped Albert pay for her education and provided her a stipend during her internship with Divide County.

Students who are selected to be part of the program through a competitive process commit to work in oil-impacted or underserved counties for at least one year. The highest-priority communities are Divide, Dunn, McKenzie, Mountrail, Stark, Ward and Williams counties, along with the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

In addition to Albert, there are 10 students in the program now, with a goal of placing 18 to 22 students in western North Dakota through the life of the five-year grant, Barkdull said.

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"The response has been great," Barkdull said. "The students have been stellar, highly qualified, highly committed."

As the first graduate of the program, Albert is now being tapped to help develop a mentorship program to support other graduates.

One of the challenges Albert sees working in a rural area is a lack of services in the immediate area. For example, Crosby didn't have therapy services when she first started her job, other than someone who drove from Williston once a week.

For people with addiction issues, they need to travel to Williston or Minot to get an evaluation, and it can sometimes take months to get through the wait list, Albert said.

"It seems like everything you're asking families to travel for. The expense of that alone, it's kind of unrealistic," Albert said. "We have to think outside the box. What can we do instead of that?"

The students need to be prepared for the challenges they may face working in rural communities, Barkdull said.

For Albert, getting involved in the local community was key to adjusting to her new life in Crosby. She helped plan the county fair as a member of the fair board and joined the volunteer fire department.

"She really does exemplify the kind of spirit we want to see in our students, wanting to make a difference," Barkdull said.

Related Topics: CROSBYEDUCATION
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