By Integrating Care with Several Middle and High School Health Centers, This Program Works to Address the State’s Pediatric Mental Health Crisis
DENVER – With the toll the pandemic has taken on youth in terms of isolation, missed experiences and fragmented learning, children and youth are struggling to access resources to address their increased mental health needs. A recent survey by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) showed that 40% of Colorado youth experienced feelings of depression in the past year. In May 2022, Children’s Hospital Colorado said the state of emergency for pediatric mental health (which it declared in May 2021) had worsened in the past year. Colorado Access, the largest public sector health plan in the state, has partnered with local nonprofit organization Kids First Health Care (Kids First) to address behavioral health care for this group, integrating it with primary care at schools and ultimately making it more accessible and effective.
AccessCare, the telehealth subsidiary of Colorado Access, utilized its Virtual Care Collaboration and Integration (VCCI) program to partner with Kids First to offer virtual therapy initially in five local school-based health centers, but has since expanded to all eight clinics (six school-based health centers and two community clinics). From August 2020 to May 2022, this program had a total of 304 visits with 67 unique patients. According to Kids First, this is an increase in need and delivery of services compared to what they have seen in the past. There are many reasons for this, but one is clear; services are accessed in a familiar setting – through school-based health centers.
“Having a program like Kids First counseling at school has really helped me take control of my own mental health,” wrote a participating student. “Prior, it was very difficult for someone my age to find some place that would help put me on the right path for counseling and psychiatry. Kids First has opened so many doors for me to finally understand what I need and finally start to feel better. Since having the telehealth program at school, it has become way more accessible and way more simple to get help when I need it, and for that I am forever grateful.”
This partnership also allows the school-based health centers to coordinate physical health care with behavioral health care. Through the program, a student first meets with a physical health provider (often after being referred by an academic counselor or teacher) to identify any physical health needs and also discuss needs and options for mental health services. From there, physical and behavioral health care are integrated to provide a more holistic model of care. Specific conditions that require both physical and mental health treatment, like in the case of an eating disorder, especially benefit from this approach.
Given the high caseloads of school therapists and challenges connecting with community providers, Kids First staff states that access to care can take weeks or months and even then may be irregular. With AccessCare, patients can be seen within a week, which can make a big impact.
“This type of support is lifesaving,” said Emily Human, clinical initiatives manager for Kids First Health Care. “The program helps patients recognize the importance of mental health care and aids in reducing the stigma around seeking mental health services.”
Since its inception in July 2017, more than 5,100 encounters have been completed through the VCCI program at Colorado Access, with more than 1,300 of those encounters being in 2021 alone. An encounter includes an e-consult or use of telehealth services and is defined as a visit where the patient meets with the provider. Currently the VCCI program is fully integrated into 27 primary practice sites throughout metro Denver, now including eight sites in partnership with Kids First. As the program continues to see success, Colorado Access and AccessCare intend to collaboratively expand these efforts to meet the growing need and increase access to care.
“The success of this partnership with Kids First shows that innovative solutions can make a direct impact in the lives of those who need it most,” said Annie Lee, president and CEO of Colorado Access. “We look forward to building capacity and offering solutions to meet our partners’ needs through continued investment in our AccessCare subsidiary.”
About Colorado Access
As the largest and most experienced public sector health plan in the state, Colorado Access is a nonprofit organization that works beyond just navigating health services. The company focuses on meeting members’ unique needs by partnering with providers and community organizations to provide better personalized care through measurable results. Their broad and deep view of regional and local systems allows them to stay focused on members’ care while collaborating on measurable and economically sustainable systems that serve them better. Learn more at coaccess.com.