Kaiser Permanente Northwest grant will connect students with support services and resources

The Tigard-Tualatin School District for five years has helped students struggling with mental health issues to get the care they need.

Now, a grant from Kaiser Permanente Northwest will ensure that support program continues.

The healthcare organization last week announced it would give $150,000 to Tigard-Tualatin during the next three years to support mental health care coordination across the district.

The money is part of a $690,000 grant awarded to Tigard-Tualatin and seven other school districts and counties in order to improve mental health programs and build school-based health centers in Oregon and Washington.

Mental health issues among the student body pose a serious problem that school districts need to address, said Susan Salkield, special projects director for the district who helped secure the funding.

More than half of lifetime mental health disorders begin before the age of 14, Salkield said, and high school students with mental health issues are more than three times as likely to be absent, suspended or expelled than their peers.

Salkield said 44 percent of students with mental health issues do not finish high school.

“At any given time, in a classroom of 30 students, three or more are likely to be struggling with a mental disorder, which impacts their ability to learn and thrive,” district leaders stated in a quarterly newsletter to teachers. “Children and youth in elementary schools with mental health problems are more likely to do poorly at school, be absent, and/or be suspended or expelled. These factors are magnified by the time students reach high school.”

Since 2009, Tigard-Tualatin has worked with LifeWorks Northwest to help diagnose and treat students with mental health issues.

That partnership was paid for through a five-year federal “Safe Schools, Healthy Students” grant, said district spokeswoman Susan Stark Haydon. LifeWorks offered mental health professionals who worked with teachers, school counselors and principals to identify students suffering from mental health problems.

“In schools, our counselors do a lot of academic help for kids, but there are not true mental health people in the schools to help kids and families with bigger problems,” Stark Haydon said.

Mental health coordinators were able to meet with the students and their families, often in the students’ homes, and help them obtain health insurance, access mental health care and other resources to help them get back on track.

Salkield, who served as the district’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students project director until last year, said that initial results from the program were promising.

“Students who received mental health care coordination had fewer suspensions and expulsions and more of them passed all their classes,” she said.

But that funding ran out last year, and Stark Haydon said the district has been working to find a way to keep the program going.

“We have been piecing together grants and district funding to maintain them,” Stark Haydon said.

Suicide prevention programs

The Kaiser grant isn't the first funding awarded to Tigard-Tualatin to help with mental health issues.

In September 2013, the Cambia Health Foundation in Portland awarded the district $248,466 to do similar work.

Together, the grant funds improve early identification of students and develop a seamless and integrated system of primary care and mental health services, said Salkield.

Students will be able to access mental health services directly at Tigard High’s school-based health center.

Tigard High has had a health center of its own since 2008.

Tualatin High School is currently in the process of building a school-based health center which the district expects to open in the fall.

“We are so grateful for these generous gifts,” Salkield said. “They not only allow us to identify students who need help early and connect them to services, but will also add more mental health services in school through the new Tualatin health center.”

The funding will also allow the district to extend its suicide prevention and early intervention programs to middle school health classes, where the risk of suicide is greater, Salkield said.

Suicide prevention classes are currently taught in health classes at Tigard and Tualatin high schools.

“There are lots of stresses on middle school students,” Salkield said. “Our student surveys tell us that the number of students who think about suicide is highest in these grades.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth between ages 10 and 17, according to the Tigard-Tualatin School District. Counselors have been trained in risk intervention and work with care coordinators and other community partners to create a service plan for at-risk students.

Along with Tigard-Tualatin, the Kaiser Permanente grant money will help increase behavioral health services in Forest Grove and Milwaukie, and will help build new school-based health centers at Benson High School in Portland; the Reynolds and North Clackamas school districts; Scappoose; Longview, Wash.; and Polk County.

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