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Hakes Wellness Solutions specializes in providing mental health services for law enforcement

The Chippewa Herald - 4/13/2024

Apr. 12—Retired Eau Claire police officer Kris O'Neill has been working to normalize therapy and support for law enforcement, first responders and their families.

As part of his work on the staff at Hakes Wellness Solutions in Chippewa Falls, O'Neill uses his experience to aid law enforcement officials after officer-involved shootings and other life-threatening incidents or difficult calls.

Law enforcement officials can struggle with frustration, sadness, anger and trauma after on-the-job incidents. Finding help to handle those emotions can be a daunting task.

"I was a law enforcement officer in Eau Claire for 25 years. My dad was a cop. It was always something I knew I wanted. I was involved in a couple of critical incidents at work, and that's how I got to know Holly Hakes. She helped me a lot during that time," O'Neill said. "I know that back after my second shooting, life kind of fell apart for me. I was diagnosed with PTSD. Now I get to use that experience to help others in similar situations."

O'Neill provides peer support services through his work at Hakes Wellness Solutions.

Hakes Wellness Solutions recently expanded. The clinical practice exclusively serves law enforcement officers, first responders and their families and offers counseling, consulting, training, coaching and speaking engagements.

The business opened its doors in 2021. The small house where the business was originally was converted into an office located at 200 N. Rural St. Now the facility has been renovated and added additional staff.

Law enforcement experience

Holly and her husband, Lee Hakes, co-own the business and both are passionate about helping law enforcement. Holly said she has been surrounded by law enforcement officers her entire life.

Lee is a retired law enforcement officer. Holly's mom, Susan, worked as a 911 dispatcher in Chippewa Falls when Holly was growing up, she said. Holly and Lee are also aunt and uncle to Chippewa County Sheriff Travis Hakes.

Holly spent part of her early professional career working as a 911 dispatcher and worked in the juvenile justice system as both a chief juvenile court intake worker and supervisor of a secured juvenile detention facility.

This experience fueled her passion for the emergency services profession.

"I don't know what took me so long to start thinking about supporting law enforcement, but it was probably about 2013 that I started to think, 'Wait a minute, I could use my counseling degree to help enforcement,'" Holly said. "Law enforcement health hasn't always been in the forefront of our minds, but it should be."

Hakes Wellness Solutions

Address: 200 N. Rural St., Chippewa Falls

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 715-861-3045

The couple opened the business in 2021.

"Lee had just retired, and I said, 'I think I should quit my job, and we should open up a private practice for law enforcement,'" she said.

Holly Hakes is a licensed professional counselor who is passionate about supporting people through difficult personal or professional circumstances. Holly considers helping law enforcement and other first responders her calling, she said.

Holly said she understands the unique burdens imposed upon emergency services families.

"There's so many different ways that the work that I do or that counselors do can support law enforcement. A lot of it is proactive. Many people are requiring their officers to see somebody like me once a year in a mandatory proactive check-in. Then there is post-incident work and also general counseling support for people and their families," she said.

Holly said she deals with a variety of issues with law enforcement officials and their families — everything from the recruitment and retention crises, to difficult hours and missed holidays, to therapy after difficult calls or investigations.

"I love law enforcement. I love helping law enforcement dispatchers, corrections officers, police and sheriff's department officials and first responders, because of course an incident impacts everybody on scene," she said. "That's my purpose. There's a shortage of mental health counselors. We wanted to specialize in this group because we need to make sure these people get seen so they can continue to protect and serve."

Help and healing

Jim Palmer of the town of Hallie said he was impressed with what he heard Holly share Friday as she spoke to a few dozen law enforcement officials, representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and members of the community.

"I haven't lived in the area that long. I retired up here after working in dispatch outside of Minneapolis, and I just was so excited to learn of this place. It's so unique and very much needed," Palmer said. "I know a lot of guys and girls in departments across the region who could benefit from a place with these skills and their expertise. ... Every time you turn on the news it feels like we lose another officer, and this place is where you go to help with that."

Holly said Friday that in 2023 western Wisconsin had its heart broken three times when three law enforcement officials died in the line of duty.

Emily Breidenbach, 32, of the Chetek Police Department and Hunter Scheel, 23, of the Cameron Police Department both died in the line of duty on April 8, 2023. The one-year-anniversary of their deaths was marked Monday with a memorial created in honor of Breidenbach in Chetek.

St. Croix County deputy Kaitie Leising was killed in the line of duty on May 6, 2023.

Holly said she decided to expand the business despite just opening in 2021 in light of those officers' deaths.

"Their deaths changed immediately my thinking about what I needed to do. I didn't need to just sit in a little property and make money. I needed to lean in and we needed to expand and get serious about providing help that could continue to support the law enforcement community," Holly said. "Hunter, Emily and Kaitie's brothers and sisters need help to cope with, not only the broken heart of their loss, but with the heaviness of the work that we do every day and of the broken hearts that are going to continue to come after their passing."

O'Neill said it's a rewarding experience to work alongside law enforcement now that he's a retired cop.

"We've done speaking engagements and guys come up to me afterward and say, 'I didn't know anyone else knew what I was going through.' We work to kind of normalize their feelings, which is an important part of staying healthy," he said.


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