School district receives federal grant to help recruit, retain school-based clinicians
Eagle County School District will receive just over $785,000 for the next 5 years as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s school-based mental health grant program
Eagle County School District is receiving a boost from the federal government to help recruit and retain its school-based clinicians.
This week, it was announced that the district received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s school-based mental health grant program. The district will be awarded $785,304 each year for the next five years.
While the district is the recipient of the award, it will largely go to support the school-based clinicians that are part of its partnership with Your Hope Center.
“These funds will help Your Hope Center to be able to recruit and retain fully credentialed mental health clinicians to provide services in Eagle County School District schools and to build sustainability through increasing their capacity for billing Medicaid,” wrote Melisa Rewold-Thuon, the assistant superintendent of student support services at the Eagle County School District.
This school-based program started in 2018 with two clinicians in two middle schools and has grown to have 12 clinicians (and four interns) in all the district’s elementary, middle and high schools in the current school year.
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With the most recent federal grant dollars, Eagle County School District and Your Hope Center are seeking to not only grow but also sustain the program and its clinicians into the future.
The federal grant program was specifically created to “increase the number of credentialed mental health services providers providing school-based mental health services,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. This, as cost of living and housing challenges prevail for the local workforce, supports a rising need for Eagle County School District and Your Hope Center.
“This funding to support recruitment and retention of school-based clinicians will strengthen our team and make our program more sustainable, having a positive impact on the quality of clinical care we provide,” said Carrie Benway, the executive director of Your Hope Center. “The timing is important as it is such a gift to be able to focus on recruitment and retention since it is such a challenging time in our community with the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing.”
Benway said these workforce challenges have been particularly persistent in the past 18 months. Specifically, she said that while recruiting for the current school year, Your Hope Center lost candidates due to the “high cost of housing and lack of housing,” while also having employees “transition off the school team because of housing challenges.”
Specifically, in presenting the Eagle County School District Board of Education with the grant application on Nov. 16, Rewold-Thuon reported that the current three-year retention rate for its therapists was 18%. With the grant, she added that the goal was to get this retention rate to 87% for its fully-certified clinicians.
“That just improves the consistency of services and care for our students, so they’re not having to re-introduce themselves and their issues to new people,” she said at the time. “We’re having a hard time, because of the high cost of living, to retain those clinical therapists when they also can go into the private sector and make a lot more money.”
According to information provided by the district, the partners’ specific goal with the grant is to “increase the number of licensed, school-based clinicians by more than 50% (10-15 clinicians) while retaining a core group of experienced, licensed clinicians, and creating a pipeline to recruit local students from the Hispanic Community into the school-based clinical positions.”
In order to achieve this broader goal, in its grant application, the district outlined plans to create bilingual hiring bonuses as well as relocation bonuses and to create an administrative supervisor position for Medicaid coordination.
While there is no charge for students to access the in-school clinicians provided by Your Hope Center, if a student has Medicaid, Medicaid will be billed, if possible, according to the district.
According to the information provided by the school district, this federal funding will account for 35.7% of the school-based program’s total costs. The program is also funded by annual contributions from the school district as well as Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, the Eagle County Tobacco Tax funds, Medicaid and private donations. In total, these other, non-federal monies amount to $1,330,450.
The ultimate benefit of these dollars, however, is the students; especially given the rise in the mental and behavioral health needs of youth across the country. Rewold-Thuon said the district began “proactively addressing student mental health issues” before the pandemic with new infrastructure. However, these issues have only become more persistent in the pandemic’s shadow.
“Since COVID-19, we have seen an even greater increase of students with mental health issues that are affecting their ability to learn and engage in school,” she wrote. “These issues are often manifested in our post-pandemic increase of behavior concerns, but there are also many students who suffer in silence.”
According to the local data from the 2021 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a majority of high school and middle school students reported having poor mental health during the pandemic, 68% and 52% respectively. In the same survey, there was an increase in the number of high school students reporting feeling sad, hopeless or stressed as well as a slight increase in those reporting attempting suicide.
“There are many barriers to students receiving mental health services outside of school such as cost, availability of providers and services, transportation,” Rewold-Thuon said. “The in-school model allows students to get professional mental health help in response to immediate needs and in the place where they spend a majority of their time, school.”