Behavioral Health Teletherapy Program Supports Elementary and Junior-Senior High School Students in Rural Washington County, Maine
A behavioral health teletherapy program is changing the way students access behavioral health services in rural Washington County, Maine. A collaborative effort coordinated by Hallowell-based MCD Global Health (MCD) now gives students and staff at Woodland Elementary and Woodland Junior-Senior High School in Baileyville, Maine, and across the county's AOS 90 school district, access to virtual behavioral health services and other needed resources.
Started as a pilot in spring of 2022, the program trains local residents as Community Health Workers and Service Navigators. The Navigators link students and families with needed resources to ensure all students who could benefit from behavioral health services have access to those services either in-person or via behavioral telehealth.
"This program responds to the urgent behavioral and mental health needs of young people in a meaningful way and illustrates how change can happen when committed community leaders come together," said Patricia Metta, superintendent of AOS 90 school district, which includes the Woodland Elementary and Woodland Junior-Senior High School. "We are excited as we expand this program to other schools in the district so students and families in surrounding communities have the same opportunity to access behavioral health teletherapy services without leaving the convenience and comfort of their schools."
Baileyville residents identified access to behavioral health services as an urgent need via a community assessment by a Community Health Ad Hoc Committee formed by the Baileyville Town Council in August of 2021. In less than a year, the behavioral health teletherapy program launched.
A $500,000 matching grant from Point32Health Foundation (formerly Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation) helped the community get started on the initiative. MCD leveraged the matching grant to secure additional funding from Pull Up Fund, Maine Health Access Foundation (MEHAF), Bingham Program, and Elmina B. Sewall Foundation. Overall resources for the program now exceed $1.5 million.
"This program has transformed the health and well-being of the students and families in this community," said Jessica Melhiser, MHRT-CSP, Children's Program Manager at Aroostook Mental Health Services, Inc. (AMHC) and Care Navigator for the program. "Students are getting the support they need and sharing the benefits with their classmates, their families, and others who need help. It brings hope to the hallways."
Since the program began, 30 students have been matched with behavioral health providers (in person and virtually), and the program is on track to serve a total of 80 students by July 31, 2023. Year-round support is built into the model and gives students and faculty access to behavioral health teletherapy services throughout the summer.
"What began as an idea for a community center has evolved to become exactly what the community itself determined was urgently needed to improve the health, wellness, and quality of life in the small rural town of Baileyville," said Kate Perkins, deputy director for U.S. program development at MCD. "Within the first month, 10 students were accessing new behavioral health services via telehealth. Elementary school and junior/senior high school parents quickly began requesting access to maintain students' existing therapeutic relationships and minimize disruption to class time."
With support from the funders, the four schools that comprise AOS 90, [East Range II (PreK-8), Princeton (PreK-8), Woodland Elementary (PreK-6), and Woodland Junior-Senior High School (7-12)] all have access to teletherapy services. In-person and behavioral health teletherapy are provided by Aroostook Mental Health Services (AMHC) and St. Croix Regional Family Health Center (SCRFHC). If the need exceeds their combined capacity, access to other providers will be available through Optum TalkSpace®, a safe and secure way to access behavioral health therapy via phone or desktop.
"At a time when the need for equitable behavioral and mental health care is increasing, our community partners are delivering critical resources to transform the quality of life for students and their families," said Jeffrey Sedlack, Maine medical director at Point32Health, the parent company of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan. "This initiative is addressing a key social determinant of health, eliminating systemic barriers and improving community health and well-being. We're humbled to be part of such a remarkable community-led collaboration."
About MCD Global Health
MCD Global Health (MCD) is a global health nonprofit and National Public Health Institute founded in Maine that envisions a world in which all people have access to high-quality solutions to improve and maintain their health and well-being. Since 1966, MCD has provided health solutions and initiatives throughout the State of Maine, throughout the U.S. and in more than 50 countries worldwide.
About Point32Health Foundation
Building on values of service and giving, Point32Health Foundation works with communities to support, advocate and advance healthier lives for everyone. Point32Health Foundation is the result of the combination of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and Tufts Health Plan Foundation and advances equity-focused solutions in healthy aging, access to healthy food and behavioral health in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.