Richmond County plans mental health care program for students

Published: Oct. 13, 2020 at 11:25 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - When it comes to access to mental health care, Augusta University says Georgia comes in dead last.

And for children living below the poverty level, experts say 22 percent have mental, behavioral, or developmental disorders.

It’s why a team of nurses from Augusta University are partnering with the Richmond County School System to make sure students have access to health care they need.

They say all it takes is one.

“If they have one — just one nurturing relationship, it really can make a huge difference,” Dr. Jean Pawl of Augusta University said.

But school board members admit Richmond County falls short.

“We have a lot of our children who do not have one adult caring human being in their lives. 44 that’s where we are failing as a community,” said Dr. Wayne Frazier, District 4 school board member.

It’s why members of Augusta University’s College of Nursing say they’re using a federal grant to help Richmond, Burke, and Taliaferro counties. And they’re one in only 15 to receive this award nationwide.

“It’s two main purposes (from HRSA), and our purpose which falls in line with, is to increase access to and quality of behavioral health services,” Pawl said.

School nurses, teachers, or parents can refer a student who might need medical attention. Then, the care team at AU will come to the school or use telemedicine to provide whatever services those students need. They can send a social worker, psychiatrist, dietitian or primary care physician.

“It also, if you look at it, may take a burden off of parents who may not be able to get off work,” said Venus Cain, vice president of the Richmond County Board of Education.

The program comes at no cost to the school district and is billed through the student’s insurance. But if a student doesn’t have insurance, they say they’ll still work with them.

“It’s not that we want to let anybody slide through the cracks,” Pawl said.

And the program was met with a warm response as board members say:

“This is probably one of the most important presentations that I’ve attended this year,” Frazier said.

They can’t wait to get started. The program will start in two Richmond County schools. Those schools haven’t been selected yet, but the team says they hope to get the ball rolling by the end of this year.

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