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WA legislators consider funding mental health telehealth service for school children

Photo by Austin Jenkins

The program started in Spokane to help school districts provide mental health services to children in northeast Washington.

Washington lawmakers are considering whether to expand a mental health program that provided services to students in rural eastern Washington schools.

The bill would re-establish a temporary grant-funded program conceived of by WSU Nursing Professor Janessa Graves. That provided money for Spokane-based Educational Service District 101 to hire a full-time mental health professional to provide telehealth consultations to students in five rural northeast districts.

Graves says a Yakima-area legislator read a Spokane Public Radio story about the program and thought it should be expanded to other parts of the state.

“This seems like a really nice method of reaching folks and getting them the services that they’re having a hard time resourcing locally," she said.

"I would say that telehealth is not the answer for all things rural, especially for individual families. Broadband access is still a huge problem in our state. But school districts have good internet and so this is a solution that works really well for schools," Graves said.

The bill stipulates that the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction would operate the program and give money to schools or private providers that want to provide confidential mental health consultations to children.

A few speakers at a hearing for the bill on Saturday objected to that state agency operating the program. They included Shannon Zetelski from the Seventh Legislative District and a group known as Conservative Ladies of Washington.

“First of all, it ignores home-schooled children, as well as those in private schools, and it expands the mission of OSPI into territory that isn’t necessarily educational related and goes into the area that can potentially exclude parents from being a part of this important work in their children’s lives,”
she said.

The bill also calls for a review of a current state program called the Mental Health Referral Service for Children and Teens to find out why only three percent of the recipients served come from eastern Washington.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.