Green County helps residents navigate wellness resources

Walk into most schools, libraries, and daycare facilities throughout Green County, and there’s a good chance Alicia Fishlock’s bright green flier with mental wellness information is displayed. 

Fishlock, who is the substance recovery and mental health wellness navigator for Green County, aims to be the “resource person” for those who may find navigating available services overwhelming. 

“It’s really nice not to do these things alone, because it can be scary,” Fishlock said. “You don’t know what you’re walking into. I can let you know, ‘Hey, this is how this works. This is how it’s going to happen.’”

Fishlock began her position, which is new for Green County, in January 2022. Improving connections to mental health services is needed as mental health and support services are limited in the county–and across rural Wisconsin–and it can be complicated to access them. Further, people experience stigma associated with seeking mental healthcare. 

Though the Green County Human Services Department previously had an intern position that fulfilled some of the navigator’s responsibilities, Green County designed the new position to include more outreach and also address substance abuse. 

“The idea of helping people find services is not just about waiting for them to come to you,” Green County Human Services Department AODA Supervisor Bob Gibson said. “There are people out there who want services, are in need of services, but they don’t even know to come to you.” 

Because there can be an overlap between those who struggle with substance abuse and mental health challenges, Gibson said it was important to incorporate substance abuse recovery into the position’s role. Also, Gibson said it allowed the county to use funding from a state grant for the navigator position’s 20 hours per week.  

Implementing the new position was supported by research conducted during Green County’s partnership with UniverCity Year (UCY) from 2017-20. UCY is the hallmark program of UniverCity Alliance (UCA), which is an initiative on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus that connects Wisconsin local governments to university resources to support community-identified goals. 

Through this three-year partnership, UCY worked with Green County’s cities, towns, and villages, including Monroe, Brodhead, Belleville, Browntown, New Glarus, Monticello, and Juda. Ultimately, Green County pursued 50 projects with UW-Madison faculty and students on topics that included economic development, parks, sustainability, housing, transportation, and operations, in addition to public health.

Students in a Population Health Sciences course explored the evidence of mental health navigators’ efficacy, outlined the roles a navigator would serve in Green County, and researched funding opportunities. 

“The limited number of mental health providers available in Green County, combined with reports from members of the local health department, and our own interviews with community stakeholders, demonstrate a need for improved connections to the limited mental health resources and support services in Green County,” the report stated.

Gibson said working with students through UCY allowed the county to vet how the navigator position could work in reality. Because the human services departments’ primary focus is to operate an outpatient clinic, there’s often not time to do that type of in-depth analysis of starting a new position or program. 

“They’re able to do that piece that we just don’t have the time to be able to do because we’re treating the next person who’s walking in the door,” Gibson said.  

Providing the impetus to move priorities like this navigator position forward is at the heart of UCY.

“The Green County partnership shows the powerful results that can happen when communities come together with the University of Wisconsin to work on their most challenging projects,” UCA Managing Director Gavin Luter said. “No one can solve addiction issues on their own, so our program provides the platform for collaboratively designing possible solutions to these kinds of complex problems.” 

‘Digging’ for resources

While there are resources available in the Green County community, the UCY report identified a lack of awareness of the current mental health services available in Green County. 

In her first year, Fishlock has connected with organizations across the county to know what services are available and to share more widely across the county what the Green County Human Services Department brings to the table. 

“That has a big impact on its own because it’s really hard to know what’s out there,” Fishlock said. “You really have to dig in to find things, but I’m a good person to come to because I have done all the digging and I know all of them.” 

Fishlock’s main role is to help people overcome barriers that might prevent them from connecting to drug and alcohol treatment or mental health services. 

“I’m here to buffer those roadblocks and help them ease into transition services,” Fishlock said. 

To connect with individuals, Fishlock holds walk-in hours two days a week, and people can also make appointments. During these meetings, Fishlock will assess what services might be needed and take steps to start accessing them. She also helps individuals navigate insurance coverage–another complicated aspect of accessing services.

Outreach is a key component of the navigator’s responsibilities. Prior to the navigator position being implemented, Gibson said focused and ongoing outreach efforts came second to more immediate needs. 

Fishlock’s outreach efforts also involve prevention and harm reduction. She hands out Narcan and fentanyl test strips at events and talks to people about mental health and recovery services. 

“It gets the word out there and is another way to open up those doors,” Fishlock said. 

If your community is interested in partnering with UniverCity Year, please email Gavin Luter at

—Abigail Becker

This story was originally published in the Wisconsin Counties Magazine’s January 2023 issue. Read the full edition here.