The Transylvania Times -

Students' Mental Health Services Lacking – Transylvania County, NC


Last updated 2/10/2020 at 2:01pm

Central office personnel and school principals informed the Transylvania County Board of Education last Monday evening that the current mental health services are not meeting the needs of all the students and the school system would be better handling the services itself.

“We’ve got a lot of struggling, young people,” said Superintendent Jeff McDaris.

“We’re coming up on a crossroads,” said Kerry Putnam, director for Exceptional Children.

Putnam said the school system has had five different private mental health services providers since the 2006-07 school year. The current provider is Meridian.

When Meridian took over in 2014-15, there were seven support clinicians for day treatment. Currently there are three-and-a-half support clinicians for grades K-5 but there is no support for middle school students.

“We currently have no day treatment support at Brevard Middle School or Rosman Middle School for this entire school year,” said Putnam.

Putnam said the school system has to pay for “empty seats.”

Each site or social/emotional classroom should have a minimum of six students.

If the number of students falls below that, the school is charged for the “empty seats.” Even if a student is enrolled in the service but absent, then Medicaid cannot be billed for that student.

“Somebody’s got to foot the bill, and right now we are,” said Putnam.

Currently, the elementary students with extreme behavioral issues go to Pisgah Forest Elementary for half a day. During the three hours they are there, they focus on their social/emotional challenges.

“The intent is to correct the social/emotional so that we can do a better job with the academics. We’re not being successful with the academics because most of the time they’re being suspended, being restrained, having meltdowns.

Their social/emotional is not where it needs to be yet,” he said.

He said there are currently 17 elementary students in the program and “plenty in the waiting arena.”

Putnam said there were some positive changes made to Medicaid coverage in 2018.

Licensed professional counselors (LPCs), licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) and school psychologists can now bill their services to Medicaid.

“What happens to kids who need day treatment who don’t have Medicaid?” asked school board member Alice Wellborn, a former school psychologist.

Putnam said if a student qualifies for the services but they do not have Medicaid or private insurance that pays for such services, then Meridian turns them down.

He said the school system used to get “two seats” for students who were not on Medicaid, but now they get none.

“They don’t do it anymore; they actually charge us now,” said Putnam.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Weaver said even if there is an “empty seat” in a class, they may not be able to get the child into the program because the parents have not gone through the “intake” process and “red tape.”

Both Putnam and Wellborn said the situation is “a nightmare.”

Putnam said principals have gone with a school resource officer to get a child enrolled because some parents may not have a car to be able to get to Meridian to fill out the paperwork.

“We have to, as the professionals and adults, remove those barriers, but we don’t get a lot of cooperation with that,” he said.

Putnam said public schools exist to provide the services, but private providers are “in it to make money.”

“They’d rather have the empty seat,” said Wellborn.

The situation could become worse. Last year Medicaid was overhauled to have a 70 percent reduction in mental health recipients. Only 30 percent were rolled off last year.

Putnam said Medicaid is waiting to roll off the other 40 percent when the state budget is passed.

“They’re still waiting… It’s going to happen and there’s a lot of unknowns when that does happen,” said Putnam.

He said Meridian has not given him a definitive answer as to what specific services they will provide in the coming year.

“To be fair, Meridian’s in a tough place,” said McDaris.

He said Meridian is a for-profit entity, but it is not receiving the funding it needs. As a result, the school system is not receiving all the mental health services it needs.

“Mental health funding in the state is not where it needs to be,” said McDaris. “They (Meridian) are trying to survive.”

“You cannot provide quality mental health services and make money. You just can’t,” said Wellborn.

Weaver said the school system is pleased with Meridian’s counselors and the services they render.

“They do provide services that are good services,” said School Board Chair Tawny McCoy.

“It’s not Meridian. It’s the system that’s in place that kind of handcuffs public schools,” agreed Putnam. “They’ve got some good clinicians, therapists and counselors. The K-5 program is as strong as it’s ever been right now.”

“This is not personal. We need social/emotional support in our schools in at least K-8,” said Putnam. “It’s about what is best for our kids.”

Putnam proposed the school system take over providing mental health services to students and presented two options.

He said if the school system handled the mental health services, it would provide more consistency, control, quality and stability in mental health services.

In Option One, there would be an additional LPC/LSCW that would split the day between BES and PFE. There would also be an additional teacher assistant at each school. Having an LPC/LCSW would eliminate the need to bus students for services.

Option Two would provide an additional LPC/LCSW at both BES and PFE, as well as an additional teacher assistant at each school.

The counselors or social workers would spend part of the day working with students in the social/emotional program and part of the day providing individual coun-seling.

In both options, there would also be one LPC/LCSW for grades 6-8 and funds from Medicaid would cover most of the costs.

Putnam said under Option One the school system would come out “to the good” about $5,000 to 8,000 and Option Two would cost about $5,000.

Both options, however, would be less expensive than the $18,000 the school system spent in 2018-19 on the services.

“That’s conservative,” said Weaver of the projected savings.

Weaver said the costs to Meridian fluctuate from year to year.

Putnam added that the school system has not paid anything to Meridian this year, but the school system also has not had a middle school program this year.

Board member Courtney Domokur said middle school teachers spend a lot of time on just a handful of students who should be receiving mental health services.

“It’s a daily triage there,” said Putnam.

“They’re going to be burning out teachers,” said Domokur.

Domokur said it is a good investment to have counselors, not teachers, deal with students’ mental health problems.

“With all due respect, in large part the general public has no idea what’s going on with mental health,” said McDaris. “The reality is, these are kids that desperately need help.”

Brevard Elementary School (BES) Principal Carrie Norris said 10 of 17 elementary students receiving services for “extreme behavior” attend BES.

She said “Option Two is the only way to go” because the students not only need the social/emotional classes, but also individual counseling. She said they now just have counselor at BES with more than 500 students.

“She cannot even begin to meet the needs of counseling,” said Norris. “We need to have some kind of support on campus.”

“We’ve got to have daily support from 8 to 3,” said Putnam.

Audrey Reneau, principal at T.C. Henderson, said she had 11 students who were receiving counseling services from Meridian, but that has declined partly due to paperwork issues.

“They just started dropping off like flies,” she said. “I went from 11 getting support to zero getting support. We’re letting those kids down. There has to be something to meet the need.”

She said even students that the court has appointed to receive services are not receiving services.

Tonya Treadway, principal at Pisgah Forest Elementary, said the need for mental health services is increasing at her school.

Bob Dinsdale, principal at Rosman Elementary School, said one reason some of his students don’t receive services from Meridian is “because the parents don’t want them to.”

Putnam said parents might be less hesitant about their child receiving such services if it were handled by the school system instead of an outside agency that parents fear might be too intrusive.

Putnam said the school system already has met three qualifiers –IEPs, 504s and simple behavior plans – needed to have its own social/emotional classrooms and to bill Medicaid.

“We’re quite in tune to doing all three of those,” said Putnam. “We can do them with our eyes closed.”

Wellborn said some of those working for Meridian might have a bachelor’s degree and two years experience, but their degrees were not necessarily in counseling.

Putnam said the school system would be getting counselors better prepared to deal with students than those provided by private entities. During the interview process school staff could seek the qualities needed to be successful in a school setting while giving potential employees a more accurate assessment of the types of students they would be counseling.

“If you don’t have a love for this, you don’t need to be interviewing for this job,” said Putnam.

Board Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi said Option Two covers the elementary and middle schools, but not the high schools.

“The needs don’t end once they exit eighth grade,” said Kiviniemi.

Putnam said Brevard High has a social/emotional classroom already and other students with similar needs attend Davidson River School.

He said a number of those students have graduated and are now gainfully employed.

In addition to the two options in which the school system handles mental health services, Putnam said the school system could revise its memorandum of under-standing with Meridian about the services provided.

“I still propose that we can do it better,” said Putnam.

Kiviniemi said the school system might be able to attract some counselors from Meridian because the school system is a stable entity.

McCoy said that if mental health services were provided in-house at BES and PFE, those services also would be available to all students in the county.

McDaris said the two options might free up some of the current staff to provide services at Rosman and T.C. Henderson elementary schools.

Putnam said the school board would need to make a decision by April as to how it wants to handle mental health services so that administrators can make the proper plans for next year.


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019