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Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center gets grant for mental health program for middle schoolers

Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 11:24 AM EST
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BOLIVIA, N.C. (WECT) - The Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center (NHBMC) Foundation was awarded a grant for $400,000 over three years from The Duke Endowment to provide telemedicine and telepsychiatry services to middle school students in crisis.

“This collaboration will increase accessibility for mental health services for our students in order for them to be more successful in school,” said Melissa Quinlan, executive director of exceptional children and student support services with Brunswick County Schools.

Novant Health works with Brunswick County Schools staff to complement existing services and fill service gaps in behavioral and substance use disorder treatment for Brunswick County students who are in sixth through eighth grade.

“The program aims to provide early intervention to quickly address crises and support students with severe symptoms of depression, anxiety and/or trauma, in addition to connecting families with appropriate care,” a news release states.

“This partnership with The Duke Endowment will be particularly important for rural and underserved Brunswick County populations,” said Ann Caulkins, senior vice president of Novant Health and president of the Novant Health Foundation. “The improved access this program provides will result in timely interventions with life-long benefits.”

Caulkins added that about 43% of Brunswick County remains rural, and the county offers one behavioral health provider per 1,120 residents as compared to the state average of one per 410 individuals. During the 2018-2019 school year, middle schools in Brunswick County reported more than 2,500 office discipline referrals, and middle school students were more likely to threaten harm to self or others as compared to elementary and high school students.

As part of the program, secure telehealth devices have been provided to the five participating middle schools.

“We can remember being in middle school at some point and that can be such a difficult transition,” said clinical social workers Malika Neal. “It feels good to kind of step in and be able to assist and provide some level of support, even just validation of what’s going on with them.”

“When a teacher observes a student potentially in crisis, the teacher will direct the student to the appropriate school counselor or behavioral support team member,” the news release states. “The staff person will assess the student and, when appropriate, make a virtual connection to a Novant Health mental health therapist for additional counseling and referrals for care as needed.”

The school system implemented the program weeks ago and some students are already showing improvements as they learn tools to help themselves.

“We talk about getting them involved as many activities as you can in the community as we’re slowly opening back up but also trying to be safe,” said Neal. “We’re really focusing on all the potential factors that could affect your mental health and improve it.”

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