BRITT | After months of exploration, the West Hancock Community School District has reached an agreement with Hancock County Health System to provide services it hopes will better accommodate students’ mental health needs.

That’s what Ruth Verbrugge, West Hancock Middle School principal, told school board members during their monthly meeting Oct. 16.

“We’re happy to get this in place,” said Laura Studer, HCHS clinic director for Britt, Garner, Kanawha and Wesley.

Starting in November, Amber Nielsen, a licensed independent social worker at HCHS, will provide mental health and behavioral health services once a week to students by visiting the schools on a rotating basis.

“I am beyond excited to have this opportunity with the school and their students,” Nielsen said.

Last spring, a West Hancock administrator approached HCHS about providing mental health and behavioral health services for students within the schools after identifying a need in the district, and after months of discussing the logistics, the school district and HCHS have reached an agreement.

Studer said under the agreement, the school district will provide “a confidential area” within each of the schools, so Nielsen can meet with students one-on-one like she would if they were to visit her at the clinic.

“It’s going to function as a satellite clinic to where it’s basically us having the same exact processes, services and billing as we would here, but it’s going to be at the school,” she said, emphasizing the benefit of convenience and confidentiality so students can receive the care they need without having to leave school.

And while the appointments will be held at the school, Studer said it’s the responsibility of a parent or guardian to schedule appointments with Nielsen for their children.

The initial appointment will take place at the clinic in Britt with a parent or guardian, so HCHS can obtain “all appropriate consent and background information.” Then, follow-up appointments will occur at the schools.

Studer said services provided to the students will be billed to the parents’ insurance; however, if a patient or family is unable to pay for the services, HCHS does offer Patient Financial Assistance.

“We all go through different life situations that can be difficult to handle either physically, mentally or emotionally,” Nielsen said. “I am hopeful that with individual therapy services available to students, both young and old, that students and their families will feel comfortable in knowing that this aspect of their life can be taken care of.

“I want students to feel that their mental health is important, and I will do whatever I can to best help in serving the students mental health needs at West Hancock schools.”

Studer said the partnership between HCHS and West Hancock to provide mental health and behavioral health services is its first, but it’d be interested in exploring options with other school districts in the area experiencing a similar need.

HCHS provides therapy services in Britt and Garner two days a week each, while Brian Vold, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, visits the system once a month to provide medication management for mental health and behavioral health needs.

For students, parents or guardians interested in learning more about the mental health and behavioral services, call the clinic at 641-843-5050. Informational brochures will also be available at West Hancock schools.

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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