Whether a teacher, coach or guidance counselor, anyone who works with kids or teens today is on the front lines of a mental health crisis. While nearly 1 in 5 children has a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, only 20 percent receive care from a mental health provider, according to the CDC.
Despite this overwhelming need, meeting the mental healthcare needs of kids is challenging. There aren’t enough clinicians, especially in rural areas. For those kids who can access care, scheduling therapy appointments proves challenging. Kids are in school all day, parents are often working and providers have limited slots.
Healthcare that meets kids where they are
One pediatric healthcare startup is working to make access to healthcare easier for families by meeting kids where they are – in schools and at home. Hazel Health CEO Josh Golomb says, “If you really want to tackle healthcare for kids and impact care, you have to go through schools, where kids spend most of their days.”
Since 2015, Hazel has partnered with school districts to turn schools into virtual care delivery sites for pediatric physical and mental telehealth. Today the national leader in school-based telehealth reaches over 3 million students in over 3,000 schools.
Their model allows schools to make referrals for students who they identify as needing care. Physical care includes ailments like headaches or pink eye. Often, referrals are for mental and emotional health support.
Parents can then easily opt in for care in a seamless way. “We’re presenting the concerns with the solution at the same time. And we’ve been excited that the parent opt-in rate has been fantastic,” says Golomb.
Partnering with school districts to increase healthcare access
The mental health crisis for kids in the United States has been growing steadily since 2012. The pandemic exacerbated the challenges. In late 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association issued a joint statement declaring a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
By partnering with schools, Hazel can significantly increase children’s access to care. Schools are where kids spend most of their time, facing social and educational stressors that parents don’t always witness. Educators are often the first to notice a student may be struggling. “We’re finding that for a lot of the parents, by the time they see something that might be going on or their child talks to them, they may be in a much higher risk category,” says Golomb.
Hazel makes it easy for parents to schedule virtual appointments for their kids in a private setting on an iPad during school hours. “Many parents in our districts work evening jobs or two jobs. To get services for their child, they have to go when the child’s out of school, they’re not at work and a provider’s open – which is hard to navigate. School is a natural way to close the gap,” says Golomb.
Providing mental health support earlier for better results
One way Hazel hopes to impact children’s mental health is by helping families access care earlier.
Students are referred to Hazel Health for therapy on average at age 12, compared to the national average of 14. The company is still in the early stages of collecting data, but Golomb hopes that identifying mental health issues earlier will lead to better outcomes.
When a child is referred to Hazel by the school or a family, they conduct an intake evaluation to determine what – if any – clinical support is best. “The hope is that a short-term mental health therapy model for 6-10 weeks can meet most kids’ needs, allowing more kids access to care,” says Golumb.
For those students who need more extended support, Hazel staff helps match them to local providers.
“It’s still really early, but the data we’re seeing is fantastic, which is that we’re seeing a lot of kids coming in clearly needing services, and with a great clinician, we’re seeing the risk scores on these metrics going down for the vast majority of kids,” says Golomb
The hardest work the team at Hazel does is bringing school districts, government and healthcare systems together to work toward a common goal, says Golomb. “But when it works, it’s magic.”
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