YVMC donation helps promote behavioral health in Routt County schools | SteamboatToday.com

YVMC donation helps promote behavioral health in Routt County schools

Steamboat Springs School District buses roll up Amethyst Drive on the first day of school in the 2016-17 year. As in 2016, Yampa Valley Medical Center has given the county's three school districts a total of $150,000 to continue and enhance behavioral health and substance abuse programs for the coming school year.
John F. Russell

Routt County children will be headed back to class this week, hoping to make the most of the upcoming school year. The arrival of students is something the administration and board of Yampa Valley Medical Center is keenly aware of, and the local hospital thinks schools are one of the best places to make sure the community is safe and healthy.

“It gets back to when we created our strategic plan a few years ago,” said Frank May, chief operating officer at YVMC. “We wanted to get back to the triple aim of the health of the individuals in our community, and we really saw this as being a driving force behind how we are going to keep our community well. … Hospitals are taking a different approach to how we can be partners in the community — not only taking care of people when they are sick, but making sure we are out in front of this in keeping people well.”

To do that, YVMC will donate $100,000 to Steamboat Springs, $25,000 to South Routt and $25,000 to Hayden to be used for behavioral health and substance abuse programs. YVMC made the same contribution in 2016, which was used to hire behavioral health therapists in all three school districts.

“We wanted to help make a difference to try to give the schools some funding, when we can, that helps with making their school days and those type of things what they should be, “ May said. “Those days should be fun; they should be a learning experience, and we just want to be able to contribute to that and make our community healthy.”

In Steamboat, the money was used to contract with Mind Springs Health to offer two mental health therapists. One therapist works 20-hours per week, splitting time between the middle and high schools. A second therapist splits time between the elementary schools.

“It’s been very appreciated by the district that the hospital has recognized the need and for us to do more along the lines of mental health for our students,” said Brad Meeks, Steamboat Springs superintendent. “We are kind of learning more about this and how it best works within schools, and what we can do to also get our staff trained and more aware of mental health for students, our families and ourselves.”

Meeks said some of the money has been used to train staff, which makes it easier to identify students and families who might benefit from the services. It has also freed some of the school’s counseling staff to focus on day-to-day work with other students.

“I think it also helped to bring in a qualified person to better deal with some of these students that were more impacted, not only working with the student, but with the family of those students, giving them support and direction that they need,” Meeks said. “I think principals would acknowledge (it has) made a difference in their buildings.”

He said most of the students at the high school will never need the services of a behavioral therapist, but added the position fills a important role for those who may need a little help — and that helps make both the schools and the community stronger.

“I think that some students are going through, as we all do, points of life where things are challenging and need some help to get through that part  of life,” Meeks said. “It is certainly beneficial, versus doing some alternative activity. I think that is part of it. I think one of the most important things the mental health therapists do is teach coping skills on how they can address one of these challenges … and obviously help them make better decisions.”

Like Steamboat, both Hayden and South Routt have used the money to help bolster their staff with behavioral therapist, and both schools believe it is making a huge difference in the classroom.

“I am new, but I just talked to the principal,” Hayden superintendent Christy Sinner said. “She said it had a huge impact and was able to provide that one-on-one student support.”

The Hayden School District has used the $25,000 donation to expand an existing position to fill the role of behavioral specialist and day treatment teacher .

In South Routt, superintendent Rim Watson said the money was used to hire someone to coordinate external mental health programs and community services.

“We hired somebody that is very familiar with our schools and our students, and, therefore, they are able to coordinate our kids and family accessing external mental health programs and community support programs.”

All three districts plan to use the money they receive this year to continue the programs that were started with the initial YVMC donation.

“We really wanted to keep these programs focused on the behavioral health and substance abuse, because that is what the schools came to us and said they were having some challenges with,” May said. “They were not able to find the resources to be able to work within the schools with the kids that were having some challenges, and we are happy that we could help out.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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