LA County to offer free mental telehealth services for all students

Dive Brief:

  • Los Angeles County on Thursday announced it will offer its nearly 80 school districts the option to participate in a free mental telehealth service for the region’s 1.3 million school students. Los Angeles Unified School District and Compton Unified School District have already opted into the program, which will deploy in a phased approach for all districts in the county that participate. 
  • The virtual mental health program, offered in partnership with school-based telehealth company Hazel Health, will be funded with $24 million over two years and backed at least partially by Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. 
  • The program is part of the California Department of Health Care Services’ Student Behavioral Health Incentive Program, which aims to support better behavioral health in schools. 

Dive Insight:

Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo called the effort “much-needed.” 

“We continue to see the devastating impact the pandemic has had on our children’s mental well-being,” Duardo said in a news release, adding that the program is part of an effort to improve the educational and life outcomes for kids in the county.

Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of LAUSD, said in a statement he hopes the district’s decision to opt into the services will “dramatically increase our support capacity” for mental health in schools. The need for mental health services in schools has increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, leading to “unprecedented levels of trauma and stressors facing our students.”

Last year, the Hawaii Department of Education also partnered with Hazel Health to offer its more than 170,000 students behavioral telehealth services.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health during the pandemic in 2022, with 44% saying they felt persistently sad or hopeless. 

Since the pandemic began, 67% of schools have reported increasing the type or amount of mental health services provided, according to School Pulse Panel surveys from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. 

However, among 88% of schools that did not strongly believe they could effectively provide mental health services to students in need, the most reported limitations involved mental health provider shortage. Limitations included insufficient staff (61%) and lack of access to providers (57%). 

“Schools have faced provider shortages for years, but this issue has recently received more attention in light of growing mental health concerns among children,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s September 2022 report evaluating the landscape of school-based mental health services.

Telehealth in schools could be a potential solution. According to a Rand Corp. study published in January, the rise of telehealth during the pandemic boosted mental health treatment rates, with mental health services provided for some conditions seeing a 10% to 20% increase by December 2020 compared to the start of that year.

The increased need for school mental health services has also received attention on the federal level through the passage of Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, both of which invest in such services.

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