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RVC school district considers partnership with Northwell for pediatric behavioral health care access

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The Rockville Centre School District continues to seek support for students struggling with mental health issues and is considering a partnership with Northwell Health to allow priority access for care during the school day. Two representatives spoke at last week’s Board of Education meeting to provide an overview of what the proposed partnership would mean for students, parents and school staff within the district.

Dr. Noreen Leahy, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services, introduced the speakers and explained that the need for a partnership has arisen from the district’s concerns about “rising levels of mental illness in young adults and adolescents” and the lack of support and communication across many state agencies. Northwell Health recently developed a partnership program to help area school districts. 

“This model is essentially a partnership of several neighboring school districts, which allows students to get priority access to mental health care and help us to form treatment plans for students with more severe needs,” Leahy said. “It will help us to streamline and make mental health services more available for our students.”

Ariana Metalia, a licensed mental health counselor from Cohen Children’s Medical Center, helped open a pediatric behavioral health urgent health clinic a few months ago specifically for this program. Highlighting the need for the program, she said that one in five students have mental health concerns and that suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24. While access to mental health care has improved, she said, access to the child and adolescent psychiatry division is still difficult for many families. 

“It’s really having that early intervention that would help patients in emergency room settings and diffuse that need to outpatient settings,” Metalia said.

As of now, she said, the direct point of contact for a child psychiatrist is in an emergency room setting.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the best place to get long term treatment started,” she said. In that situation, she said, the psychiatrist is only determining whether the patient should be admitted or discharged, and so the “care management piece” is missing. “Often, children end up in limbo with getting treatment or linkage to outpatient coordination services, so to be able to bridge that need would be a missing piece in this whole foundation.”

The model being proposed would allow the students to have a full assessment at the clinic and coordination of follow-up care.

“The goal is to be able to assess the needs of the patient, allow them to continue living in their current environment and be able to function while attending school and living with their families,” Metalia said. “The last thing we want is for them to end up in an emergency room or inpatient setting.”

Gina-Marie Bounds, assistant vice president of the pediatric service line at Northwell Health, who is also a Rockville Centre resident, explained that the model is similar to an urgent care clinic because it would be the first point of contact with a professional and would also allow them to see a doctor in a timely manner. However, upon intake, patients would be referred to doctors for follow-up care. Furthermore, the relationship with staff would allow school staff to call the clinic with concerns and find answers on how best to address certain situations. However, upon intake, patients would be referred to doctors for follow-up care

“We’re proposing a partnership to have instant access to a child psychiatrist five days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Bounds said. “The idea is a collaborative strategy.”

The pilot site opened at the beginning of the month at 100 Merrick Rd.

“We’re excited, it’s innovative, we feel passionate about it and feel like we can help a lot of kids,” Bounds said, “but a big piece of this is to integrate into the schools, integrate into primary care offices and be able to help all students from every facet of their life.

No contract has been signed yet as the district administration must still make a decision. The fee is currently estimated at $55,000 per year, which Leahy said is “an incredible price tag for the resources provided.” 

“We deal with acute crises, but also some chronic issues,” Leahy said. “This is just another level of support for chronic cases of school avoidance, depression, anxiety…it’s not intended to be a place where a student would receive treatment for a prolonged period of time. It’s intended to create support, direction and security for these families until they have a firm treatment plan in place, which would be extremely helpful. The PPS staff is really excited about the possibility of having this support.”