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Breaking down barriers

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Citizens Memorial Hospital Pediatric Unit has partnered with the Bolivar R-1 school district to provide counseling and therapy to students K-12 beginning in the 2019-20 school year. 

According to a CMH news release, Melissa Moores, a licensed clinical social worker, will provide on-site counseling and therapy sessions to students during school hours. 

In addition to regular school hours, special arrangements can be made to schedule appointments during after-school hours and summer months, the release stated.

Moores can help students with depression, anxiety, recent loss/grief and behavioral issues including aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, anger outbursts, acting out sexually, cutting/suicidal ideations, substance use and bullying, the release said. 

The release stated most major insurance plans are accepted and financial assistance is available.  

Providing resources

Michael Calhoun, CMH administrative director of clinics, said the partnership started being discussed with the Bolivar R-1 school district before the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. 

“When we first met, we asked (Bolivar R-1’s) school counselors, ‘What is it that they need?’ in terms of resources from us,” Calhoun told the BH-FP on Wednesday, Aug. 7.  

In the beginning, CMH’s goal was to provide patient care in a setting that would be easy and convenient for students and allow the school to focus on education, he said. 

Calhoun explained after the initial planning meeting, “We took the feedback and basically proposed a full-time person to come on-site to be available for them at all of their facilities throughout the school year.” 

Calhoun said putting a counselor on-site at R-1 schools comes at no cost to the school district.

While CMH provides the counselor resource and takes care of billing and insurance processes, Bolivar R-1 offers a confidential space and coordination with teachers, Calhoun said. 

Regarding the on-site process at Bolivar R-1’s schools, Calhoun said “the school counselors and teachers identify the students that would benefit from counseling.” 

“They refer the patient to CMH … and we work on getting it approved through insurance, making sure we work with the parents to get them involved.”

He explained a patient’s first interactions will involve the counselor, the parents and the student in a clinical setting “to have ultimate privacy and respect.”

After that, ongoing visits for therapy can be done on-site at the school.

Regarding CMH’s hopes for the partnership, one goal is for students to feel comfortable and recieve an education at school without distraction. Having somebody like Moores can help students overcome their obstacles and be successful, Calhoun said.

“We want to be able to provide resources and partnership with the community so that these kids are able to learn, get further into education, do better in their lives and meet their goals,” he said. 

In addition to the counselor’s therapy services, Calhoun said the counselor can also help locate resources for patients who need more intensive services. 

“We do have a pediatric psychologist who works with Melissa,” he said. “We also have access to psychiatry, and if necessary, medication management. We can provide referrals for that. We wouldn’t do that on-site. … We can identify that through our counseling on-site and refer on.”

While this is the partnership’s first year of fruition, Calhoun noted that CMH’s goal is to expand this service out to other school districts.

“Our goal is that every community that we serve and have facilities in would have a partnership with the schools if they feel like it would be helpful to them,” he said.

Regarding Bolivar’s school district, though, Calhoun noted he was moved by their passion. 

He said every conversation CMH has had with them regarding the partnership has been solely focused on taking care of kids.

“That’s something we share in terms of our values, so when we came together, it was really exciting to see how we could help these kids,” he said. 

For all

The impetus of this partnership is giving students the help they desperately need, Bolivar R-1 Superintendent Tony Berry told the BH-FP on Wednesday.

“I think it came about because of the needs we see throughout the nation,” Berry explained, “and the fact that we have a lot of people who are going through mental health crisis and mental health issues that, quite frankly, were not being addressed.”

Berry described the manifestation of mental health issues — from drug addictions, mass shootings and simply people who have terrible thoughts about themselves.

It’s a subject that is personally, not only professionally, important to him.

“My father worked in mental health for most of his life, and he has a huge heart for that,” Berry said. “Last year, my nephew — who was 24 years old — overdosed and died because of these addictions.”

“We have to be a bridge to stop this, or at least to mitigate what we can,” he said.

“What are we about?” Berry went on. “We are about passing on learning opportunities to the next generation, and that’s our charge and that’s what we have to be able to do.”

But, he said, there are barriers preventing that from happening. 

“So what can we do to take those barriers away?” he said.

This question spurred Berry, R-1’s school counselors and R-1 special services director Sandy Krueger to identify certain barriers families face — including difficulties with transportation and the availability to seek mental health services. Berry said those concernsled the district to ask, “‘Why can’t we do this at school?’”

Planning the program was a year-long process, Krueger and Berry said. 

“It was a lot of planning and meetings to bring those two processes together and make it all work,” Krueger said.

“With an amazing relationship with CMH,” Berry added. “They came right along board with us, and they understand the need also. They were very willing.”

Krueger said R-1’s school counselors will still provide support, as well, “but this gets really into the mental health side of things for kids.” 

“It doesn’t negate what our school counselors do,” Berry said. “Our school counselors are trained, and they’re professionals in school counseling.”

Berry explained, however, some of the mental health issues students face are out of the school’s scope.

To have school counselors approach some of these issues would be like “asking our lead biology teacher do open heart surgery,” Berry said.

Krueger noted the school’s counselors have been “a huge piece” in the partnership’s planning and have participated in meetings and supported the program.  

With this new resource being provided through the partnership, Berry said the district’s hope is “that the students receive everything they need so they can receive a proper free and appropriate public education.” 

He said there are two words in the school’s mission statement that apply to this goal: “‘for all’ —  that means everybody.”

“These kids have all of these other things interfering — mental health issues — that’s going to impact their learning,” Krueger said. “We need to help with that so those barriers can be broken down and they can get the help they need, so they can concentrate on school and have a good, positive experience here.”

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