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Rural Wisconsin schools getting mental health help by video

September 2, 2019

HOLCOMBE, Wis. (AP) — Students at a rural Wisconsin school district are getting access to mental health services with a new video-conferencing system to address a shortage of options nearby.

The closest mental health clinic available to students at the Lake Holcombe School District is about a 20-minute drive away, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The district is about 40 miles northeast of Eau Claire.

“We found that it was a barrier to care for patients who were seeking services but didn’t have a means of transportation to receive the service, and also wasted patient time to try to have the counselor commute to the more rural schools,” said Nicole Califf, a behavioral care clinic manager for Prevea Health counselors, the organization that will be connecting with students through video conferencing.

Officials hope to have the program available in October. Students who seek treatment will enter a private room where they will connect with a therapist on a television screen. The services will be covered by the students’ parents’ insurance or Medicaid.

The school district has about 300 students. School guidance counselor Barb VanDoorn estimates that the percentage of students who struggle with mental health issues is either the same or greater than the Wisconsin state average of 20% of students.

“We are excited about our opportunities with telehealth counseling services as we can reach more students who are in need,” Califf said.

Jeni Gronemus, a Prevea licensed professional counselor, said earlier intervention often means students who need help are better at building skills to manage their symptoms. VanDoorn said some of the more prevalent mental health issues students suffer from are anxiety and depression, which is more common among teenagers.

Lake Holcombe’s program will be funded over two years with $60,000. The money comes from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which awarded $6.5 million in grants to 120 school districts to address mental health.

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Information from: Wisconsin Public Radio, http://www.wpr.org

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