Cedar Rapids schools may shift models for mental health services

School-based therapy could be replaced by assessments and consultations

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If Cedar Rapids school board members approve new agreements with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Abbe Center for Community Mental Health, school-based therapy largely will be replaced in favor of assessments and consultations.

The vote will take place during the board meeting slated for 5:30 p.m. Monday.

“At first we were trying to do everything for everyone, when money wasn’t such an issue,” said Rhoda Shepherd, director of health services for Cedar Rapids schools. “Now, mental health services and health care have changed so much in the last three years that Abbe really had to focus on billable services.”

In the past, Abbe provided multiple therapists — each serving three to five schools — to do on-site therapy with students as requested at all Cedar Rapids buildings. The district’s funding source for that work has “dried up,” Shepherd said. Instead, Johnson Elementary School, McKinley Middle School and Metro and Washington high schools — will each have a half-time mental health specialist to serve as consultant and assess students who exhibit mental health concerns.

An agreement with DHS, for $150,000 annually for up to three years, will extend these services to Hoover Elementary School, Wilson Middle School and Jefferson High School. The remaining 24 district schools will split services of one mental health specialist, using the same model, available for seven hours each week.

“I think we weren’t going to have anything, or very little, if this wasn’t presented to us,” said Kim Rimmer, a health services specialist with Metro Care Connection.

The new model calls on the specialist to, after evaluation, work with the student and his or her family to find out which local agencies can provide additional support and also to make referrals for further services should the family opt in.

Shepherd said this system will allow for more family engagement and “increased communication and coordination.”

“It really brings that mental health expertise to the learning support team meeting,” Rimmer added. “This way, it’s maybe sitting down and talking to the parents and getting that assessment done (earlier).”

She estimated that 350 to 400 students each year received direct therapy on-site during the school day. This model does not allow for that, especially for the 24 schools that will be sharing a single specialist.

“It’ll be more limited timing but still trying to provide for some of the more emergent issues that the schools need,” Rimmer said. “It’ll be limited in time and availability.”

Shepherd said she wants to move toward having Metro Care Connection coordinate all student health services.

“I’m kind of excited about it,” she said. “I think it’ll help us all get on the same page.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8273; meryn.fluker@thegazette.com

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