Island Hospital in Anacortes received the Washington State Hospital Association’s Community Health Leadership Award for its approach to delivering mental health services to students in a rural setting.
The award recognizes health-care organizations that provide a strong, “above and beyond” program to benefit the broader health needs of their communities. The award was presented during the association’s annual meeting on Oct. 16 in Seattle.
The school-based mental-health program began in 2013 with a needs assessment of the Anacortes community. The results showed that there was significant need for more mental-health and substance-abuse services. After considering several different approaches to this challenge, Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Island Hospital solicited support from a number of community partners to develop a school-based mental-health delivery model.
More than 1,000 mental-health appointments with students have occurred on site at the schools. Students are also able to access these services during vacations and school breaks.
“Increasing access to mental-health services is difficult in all parts of our state, but especially rural areas,” said Julie Petersen, WSHA chair and CEO of PMH Medical Center in Prosser. “This program brings services to the people who need them most and provides access to other services that might be needed by the student.”
Here is an example of the kind of situations where the program has been useful: A student had been severely assaulted by an adult caretaker in his home and attended school the following day. The mental-health clinician on site was able to walk the student over to the Island Hospital emergency department for immediate care and coordinate Child Protective Services involvement and police intervention to ensure the child’s safety. They have also cared for students who were struggling with substance abuse, depression and anxiety.
As a result of the project, extraordinary relationships have been strengthened among the City of Anacortes, Anacortes Police Department, Anacortes School District, Island Hospital, Island Hospital Foundation, Worthington Foundation and the Anacortes community as a whole.
“One of the challenges for school districts around the country is how to support the mental-health needs of our students,” said Mark Wenzel, Anacortes School District superintendent, in his nomination of the project. “We have an increasing number of students who come to school with mental-health challenges, and these often become an obstacle to successful learning.”