New program aims to coordinate physical, mental health care of at-risk youth

HUNTINGTON — A new pilot program at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine will help coordinate the medical care and mental health of high-risk students in partnership with school-based health centers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

Made possible by a $300,000 grant from the Pallottine Foundation of Huntington, the Division of Community Health in the Department of Family and Community Health will leverage existing relationships with school-based health centers in three pilot counties, one each in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, to develop a care coordination model for youth significantly affected by physical, mental, social and behavioral problems.

“For more than a decade, we’ve been partnering with schools on the delivery of primary care and expanded mental health services to students. Now, we’re taking what we’ve learned about care coordination in our clinics and implementing that in a way that benefits students, parents and schools,” said Deb Koester, Ph.D., assistant professor and director in the Division of Community Health. “During the past 18 months, the pandemic has impacted child well-being as a result of destabilizing factors such as health care, economic stability and education. Mental health issues among youth are a critical concern and yet to be fully understood. This project will shed light on the needs of youth during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and thereafter.”

Through the program, the School of Medicine will support the development of care coordination teams in school-based health centers composed of a medical provider, mental health provider, school counselor, social service provider, school staff and a high risk youth specialist.

“The real-time coordination between primary care, mental health and the school is an innovation in care that can help quickly address concerns as they arise,” Koester said. “The inclusion of a high risk youth specialist closes the communication loop, working with youth and their families in both their homes and the community. Our high risk youth specialists will be instrumental in facilitating comprehensive care for youth and their families in rural communities where access to health care can be a challenge.”

The care coordination team will receive referrals from teachers, counselors and administrators; assess the youth’s level of risk; enroll youth and their family members; and develop/manage coordinated care plans. The coordinated care plans will draw on resources in the school, home, community and state.

“Based on what we learn from this pilot, this is a model that could be expanded and replicated in school-based health centers throughout Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia,” Koester said.

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