MHA Collaborates with Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District on Mental-health Services

WILBRAHAM — A collaboration with the Springfield-based Mental Health Assoc. (MHA) is enabling the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District to join a growing number of school systems in integrating community-based mental-health services on site for easier student access.

The just-announced collaboration, made possible by $115,000 in state federal stimulus money secured for the program by state Rep. Brian Ashe in the $4 billion package approved by legislators and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker at the end of last year, embeds MHA clinician Katie Sarno five days a week in the system.

Her services will be accessible on different days to all 3,000 students in the district’s six schools, kindergarten through grade 12. They are seen as addressing issues in the environment outside of school but that may impact student performance, as well as supporting collaboration between a student’s school-based team and home.

Kimberley Lee, MHA’s vice president of Resource Development and Branding, said planning for the integration has been underway for some time with the district, but the funding secured by Ashe in December made it a reality.

“Our partnership is specifically in response to the increased number of children and youth with identified behavioral-health challenges who are often underserved by the traditional healthcare system,” Lee said. “The program will help bridge the behavioral healthcare system with the school system by providing trauma-informed care directly in the schools for children and their families.”

District data shows a gap in, as well as a need for, access to individual, evidence-based therapies for mental-health challenges outside the scope of a guidance and adjustment counselor. It is estimated that between 22% to 30% of children in elementary and middle school identify as at risk for emotional or behavioral concerns and that more than 50% of high-school adjustment counselors’ caseloads include issues of anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

Support offered will include on-site counseling services as well as teacher and staff professional development and a proposed ‘parent-teacher partner’ component — an online chatroom for parents and teachers to pose questions to Sarno.

MHA will provide overall program coordination, clinician supervision, program evaluation, and compliance reporting as needed. Its BestLife outpatient behavioral-health clinic will be available for referrals year-round for any needed behavioral-health services outside the school setting as appropriate.

“Children have had to deal with a lot of things children have not had to deal with in our lifetime or ever,” Ashe said. “It is important to get ahead of this to address these issues. You do not want to see something [that happens] to a child at 5, 6, 7, or whatever age stifle them for the rest of their life or become an obstacle they never go over because they did not have the resources to know what to do.”