Since its inception in 2013, River Hospital’s River Community Wellness Program (RCWP) has served the mental health needs of the community-at-large and active duty military personnel stationed at Ft. Drum. RCWP offers outpatient mental health services, including medication management and verbal therapy, for adults, children and adolescents in the community. In 2020, RCWP partnered with the Alexandria Central School District to improve access to mental health care throughout the district. School-based mental health services to promote mental health, well-being and academic achievement for students, staff, parents and caregivers. Through this initiative, a New York State Office of Mental Health-licensed clinic staffed by River Hospital personnel, exists to provide behavioral health services on the premises of Alexandria Central School.
Leani Spinner, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW-R) manages this initiative. “Through this program, we seek to make mental health services accessible to students and school staff without them having to take time off from school or from work,” Ms. Spinner explains. “We hope that offering school-based services is helping to de-stigmatize mental health treatment by offering help within a familiar setting.”
River Hospital’s Kaitlin Ford, Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) is the program’s on-site health care provider. She reports that the program has been well-received and is used regularly by the community. “Students from elementary school through high school may suffer from a variety of conditions including anxiety, depression and/or adjustment disorder, potentially stemming from family dynamics, traumatic experiences or the death of a loved one. Returning to school from Covid-related isolation has also proven stressful for many students,” says Ms. Ford. “Lack of treatment can result in cumulative behavioral issues and declining grades, which we try to help students avoid.”
“My office is open all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and for half a day on Fridays. We work in close conjunction with families, guidance counselors and the school psychologist to get a holistic view of each student’s needs,” she continues. “Before starting any treatment we obtain consent for treatment from parents, guardians or caregivers responsible for the student’s well-being. I believe that we can offer highly effective behavioral health solutions when we can address problems early on. I am particularly pleased to work with students, their families and school staff. Our goal is to make a positive difference in their lives.”
Participants access on-site services through referral by any school staff member, parent, guardian or caregiver. Students over the age of 16 can self-refer when in need. In addition to students, anyone connected to Alexandria Central School, including school staff, parents and caregivers, may avail themselves of program services.
Brad Frey, RPA-C, is Director of the River Community Wellness Program and an expert on behavioral health services. Mr. Frey was instrumental in structuring River Hospital’s partnership with Alexandria Central School. “There has been a long-standing need for behavioral health services in schools,” he observes. “Students in need have often had difficulty in obtaining services when the process involved time away from school, while parents and caregivers might have difficulty scheduling time away from work. Lack of treatment may result in students electing not to attend school, pressuring grades and graduation rates. The on-site feature of this program is aimed at removing obstacles to treatment, and providing the opportunity to schedule treatment within a school day.”
He continues, “Through this partnership, we offer general services including diagnostic assessment, individual therapy, parental consultation and family therapy. As needed we also offer medication consultation services including assessment and treatment when appropriate. Needless to say, the New York State Office of Mental Health oversaw regulatory requirements associated with creating the partnership, and monitors ongoing activities. Our goal is to augment the school experience for students while improving grades and reducing truancy. Other school districts now seek to establish similar partnerships with us.”
Christopher Clapper, Superintendent of the Alexandria Central School District, believes that partnership with the River Community Wellness Program is having a highly positive impact. “Mental health issues among students are on the rise, particularly after widespread isolation that was caused by the pandemic,” he shares. “Since I reached out to River Hospital, they have been more than accommodating. Brad Frey managed all of the arrangements with New York State, and our on-site clinicians are quite busy. Students and parents have found it much easier to access care without disrupting school or work schedules. This program promotes problem-solving skills, self-reflection and healthy relationships to optimize success in school.”
River Hospital participates with most insurances. Those without insurance can be accommodated through River Care, a sliding fee schedule with discounts ranging from 20 percent to 100 percent of cost. For more information on the River Community Wellness Program School and Mental Health Partnership, please call 315-482-1277 or visit www.riverhospital.org.