Cheney Free Press -

By Lee Hughes
Staff reporter 

Medical Lake picked for pilot program

School district’s mental health, other programs to benefit from University of Washington, Seattle Children’s Hospital consults

 

Last updated 11/14/2019 at 9:12am



MEDICAL LAKE — The Medical Lake School District has been selected as one of two state districts to participate in a joint University of Washington, Seattle Children’s Hospital pilot program called Partnership Access Line for Schools, or PAL.

The two-year program will provide school councilors and mental health professionals with access to psychologists and psychiatrists via telephone and televideo consultations for clinically relevant sessions, according to a press release.

The program will add to the districts “multi-tiered systems of support,” or MTSS, that includes a variety of academic and non-academic prevention, support and problem-solving services for students, staff, families and the community.

While mental health staff at Medical Lake are psychologists and specialists who focus on an “educational” psychology model, the PAL program will augment their efforts.

“They are from a medical model,” district Special Services Director Tawni Barlow said of the PAL support. “This program offers consultation from a psychiatrist.”

While a psychologist can offer mental health services such as counseling, they cannot prescribe medications. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can.

But the benefits go beyond medications. The more people involved with a diverse background and experience the more knowledge is available to tap into.

“When you have a more robust clinical team you have better solutions. You have better interventions and strategies,” Barlow said.

The PAL program will deal with issues such as suicide prevention, de-escalation, staff wellness and self-care, child development, substance abuse and creating “trauma-informed” school environments, where staff receive training and use trauma-informed practices for students that have a history of childhood trauma such as drugs or abuse.

Staff will receive additional training in strategies that build resilience in such children, according to Barlow, who noted that even one adult who demonstrates positivity in traumatized children’s lives can help develop resilience.

“Trauma informed practices help you survive trauma later.” Barlow said. “It also helps educators identify triggers and helps them understand the belief behind the behavior.”

For district administrators it’s also a broader opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of a mental health and special education program to the people that hold the purse strings: legislators.

Superintendent Tim Ames gave the example of a student who had been hospitalized the week before for undisclosed mental health issues. When the student is released the district would have psychiatrists and other medical professionals available through the PAL network for consultation.

“Now, when that student comes back we’ll have strategies surrounding the student,” Ames said, including direct televideo sessions.

For Ames, the pilot program was especially important for rural school districts like Medical Lake, which has the potential to illustrate through the program a representative rural school district model for providing mental health and special education services to the community.

Success provides a stronger voice to legislators, who hold funding purse strings, according to Assistant Superintendent Kim Headrick.

“This is the need, this is how we’re serving that need, and you can see the success in building this,” Headrick said. “These are the things we have to do to share with folks around identifying the need and the opportunities and solutions that can help support those.”

Ames’ hope is that legislators will see fit to modify and fully fund the so-called prototypical school model — better known as basic education — to include more teachers, school counselors and mental health therapists.

Currently the district is funded for a .42 full time equivalent (FTE) school psychologists. It has two on staff plus a family councilor. Two are doctorate level by education and training.

In Ames’ view the district is at the cutting edge of providing mental health and related services, with the long view of demonstrating the benefits of what such a program can provide in the hope that such services will eventually be funded.

“That’s a real hope for us as we invest in the front part of this,” he said.

About half of Medical Lake’s employees are currently funded by basic education, according to Finance Director Chad Moss.

The rest are funded through a variety of other sources, including grants, local levy money and federal funds, according to Ames.

School districts were chosen for the PAL program for their ability to co-develop professional learning plans on school mental health topics as well as their readiness to host telemedicine appointments within an MTSS framework in their school.

Medical Lake launched its innovative MIND Your Health program 18-months ago. The program continues to receive increased attention on both a state and national level.

Lee Hughes can be reached at lee@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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