Three rural Polk County schools have recently secured a new service to assess student behavioral and mental health issues.

This semester, the Ozarks Community Health Center expanded school-based behavioral health services to the Fair Play R-2, Halfway R-3 and Humansville R-4 school districts.

Through this program, licensed professional counselor Charles Wilson and licensed clinical social worker Phoebe Glover will provide school-based counseling services on-site at these schools, according to an OCHC news release. 

“It can be anything from acting out in the classroom,” Scott Crouch, OCHC executive officer, told the BH-FP, explaining the behavioral issues Wilson and Glover can address. “It can be dealing with depression, substance abuse … it might be a child who simply has parents going through a divorce, and they just need a little bit of help to work through that.”

Addressing these issues comes after lengthy consideration. 

“It’s something that we were trying to figure out for a long period of time — how do we get behavioral health services in the school?’’ he said. 

The puzzle was solved in April of last year. 

Around that time, OCHC learned on-site behavioral health services could be billed to Medicaid and be “reimbursed” by the state, which led them to figure out how to make the program sustainable, Crouch said. 

The following semester, OCHC started out the program in four Hickory County schools —Wheatland R-2, Weaubleau R-3, Hermitage R-5 and Skyline R-I — and had counselors visit on-site at each school one day a week. 

Through the services, Crouch said they learned the earlier a student gets intervention, the higher the level of success the student will see. 

“One counselor said this was the most successful program that they’d seen in their five years as a school counselor,” Crouch noted.

The success led them to expand the program to Hickory County schools two days a week at each school this year, he said. 

It also led to an expansion beyond Hickory County lines. 

“We saw the need and how successful it was and felt like we needed to grow the opportunity,“ Crouch said. “We looked at other rural schools where this was not being addressed.”

Thus, the program expanded to Humansville in September and to Halfway and Fair Play in October, Crouch said.

The release said Wilson works in Humansville, and Glover works in Fair Play and Halfway. 

Crouch said providing this service to small, rural schools is important because these areas typically have large barriers to care, and transportation is often an issue. 

“It might be one thing for the child to get referred to behavioral health services,” he said, “but if they have to be taken out of school and driven there, a lot of times they’re not going to be coming back to school or they might not get the care.”

By providing that school-based service, providers are able to break down that barrier of transportation and “any kind of barrier that might be,” Crouch said. 

He said Wilson and Glover can work with students of all ages at the schools.

For student referrals, school counselors and teachers will “identify the need” in students. Families may also refer their children to receive services, he said. 

The program accepts Medicaid, health insurance and self-pays with fees on a sliding scale, the release said.

Another asset the program provides is a community health worker who offers additional resources for students.  

“If it’s somebody that doesn’t have Medicaid — that maybe they would qualify — she’ll work with the student and the family to try to get them on Medicaid,” he said. “There’s been a handful of students who have been deemed homeless, and she’s worked to get them on food stamps.”

Crouch said OCHC is grateful to provide “higher level of success in the kids” through early intervention.

Fair Play R-2 representatives and elementary counselor Phyllis Garrison told the BH-FP the new behavioral service is “meeting a big need in our district.”

One day's schedule is completely full, and they are now seeking a second day for Glover’s services, they said. 

“The program addresses mental health needs at an early age,” they said. “It will help reduce the stigma sometimes associated with getting mental health help, and hopefully individuals would be more willing to seek out help if needed later in life.”

They noted a school counselor wears many hats, so having Glover on site helps alleviate time issues.

“There is no travel time to see a therapist, leading to better attendance and education,” they said. 

Steve Gallivan, Humansville High School principal, said OCHC’s counseling service has “been beneficial, as it provides our students and families a third-party resource that enhances the counseling intervention programs currently in place in the district.” 

Students and families who are utilizing the resource report they are benefiting from the services, Gallivan said. 

“Our district’s current waitlist for OCHC’s counseling services demonstrates the high need and demand in our rural community,” said Holly Deckard, a K-12 counselor at Humansville. “This additional support is making a positive impact on students’ attitudes, behaviors and their help-seeking knowledge.”

Lance Roweton, Halfway R-3 superintendent, said OCHC’s behavioral health has also seen success at the district “in an ever-changing society where sensory overload seems to occur kids are having a difficult time self-regulating their behaviors and emotions.” 

“The OCHC behavioral health services helps to meet that need,” Roweton said. 

He said in the past three years, the overall area has seen a significant increase in mental health issues. 

“We have had a K-12 counselor meeting with these students and have utilized outside resources in certain cases,” he said. “The OCHC behavioral health services gives our district a consistent resource that meets our students weekly, and we are very appreciative of that.”

For more information, contact OCHC’s Hermitage office at 745-0242, the Urbana office at 993-1002 or visit ozarkschc.com/behavioral-health

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