The Smithtown Central School District has partnered with the Cohen Children’s Medical Center at Northwell Health to provide timely mental health, psychology, and psychiatry services for students. Representatives of Northwell, Gina-Marie Bounds and Dr. Vera Feuer, returned to the Smithtown school board podium at the remote meeting on February 8, 2022 to “clarify some things, answer some questions, answer some questions, and just again to highlight why a partnership like this is important.”
Dr. Feuer started by describing the mental health issues children were facing even before the coronavirus pandemic. She shared that one in five children and adolescents had a mental health diagnosis before the pandemic. Additionally, it was also stated that suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents.
The pandemic has only worsened the state of youth mental health. In addition to making access to care even more challenging, rates of anxiety and depression have “been even higher than before,” according to Dr. Feuer. She presented the statistic that during the pandemic, 25% of youth have depression and 20% have anxiety disorders. She also described a national increase in emergency room visits for attempted suicides. Due to the challenges of child and adolescent mental health during the pandemic, the Surgeon General has issued a Youth Mental Health Advisory.
Dr. Feuer stated that adolescents often lack “timely access to reliable screening, assessment, and treatment” in her presentation. She also emphasized the “lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate care for populations that are disadvantaged.” She also described the dilemma that parents are currently faced with when their children require a mental health assessment, their only choices are to head to the emergency room or to wait many months to see a “community provider.”
Next, Dr. Feuer described the “continuum of services” that Northwell would provide to the district in the partnership. A pyramid model was used to represent the services for each level of the population, which were “all students”, “at-risk students,” and “high-risk students.”
According to Ms. Bounds, some school districts which have already implemented this partnership have a mental health professional do “consultations and linkage to care” every one or two months. She states that the plan includes establishing a Behavioral Health Center (BHC) for “urgent immediate access” to care or linkage to more advanced care.
The Northwell presentation mentioned a variety of areas for collaboration between mental health professionals and school staff. They include regular meetings with administrative and pupil personnel services staff.
If the plan is implemented, school staff will be able to easily and quickly schedule consultations and assessments with Northwell psychiatrists for any K-12 student in the district who requires such, avoiding the current maze through the hospital system.
Additionally, the partnership will include new professional development opportunities for staff and educational webinars for parents on topics such as COVID-19, substance use, and other mental health topics. A newsletter will also be sent monthly to inform educators and community members regarding the resources available to them.
Cohen Strong, an anti-bullying program utilizing “student leaders” will also be established.
At the board meeting, the two representatives also mentioned that parental consent must be obtained before referral to the Behavioral Health Center. Additionally, the school must obtain parental consent before requesting medical records from the BHC.
This program will cause approximately $95,850/year for the Smithtown school district. Additionally, families will have costs for visiting the Behavioral Health Center.
The Northwell Health Cohen Children’s Medical Center first announced its cooperation with the Smithtown Central School District at the school board meeting on November 23, 2021. It currently already serves 182 schools in 29 school districts, with more than 20 additional districts, including Smithtown, “in discussion.”