Improving access to care through telehealth
Washburn Center for Children and Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center
This is number four of a four-part series on the Mental Health Crisis among our nation’s youth and how Medica is helping to address this crisis.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the months after, telehealth became an essential method of care delivery. Our financial support for our nonprofit partners helped them shift to this accessible care model during this crucial time. It also helped reduce the barriers to care that many people still face. Today, telehealth remains an important tool that increases access to mental health care. Two nonprofits expanded care delivery monumentally with the addition of telehealth services with support from Medica.
Washburn Center for Children (WCC) is a leading provider of children’s mental health services in Minnesota. With a $100,000 grant from The Medica Foundation during the COVID-19pandemic, WCC made a rapid and massive operational shift to telehealth, which was implemented as an immediate response as the COVID shutdown created gaps in care. The innovative response helped families stay connected to safety net care, mounting mental health pressures of the pandemic and social unrest. Currently, WCC offers a hybrid model of mental health care, which includes in-person therapy, community-based response, and telehealth.
With WCC children who have experienced trauma gain access to early intervention and trauma-sensitive mental health care that builds a foundation for a thriving life. Medica funding helps support two Washburn programs—Family Focused and Day Treatment, which combined, serve children and their families from birth through second grade. The children and their families served have endured trauma or severe stress. During the pandemic, these programs shifted to telehealth and online meetings so that these vital services continued.
Family Focused staff runs eight sessions of a half-day preschool program each week with 6-8 kids in each classroom led by 3 therapists. Classroom time helps them navigate social and emotional skills in a group setting, serving as a bridge to kindergarten. Therapists dedicate the afternoons to therapy for these 3 to 5-year-old students, as well as providing in-home family therapy.
Day Treatment therapists serve students ages 5-9 years old, four days a week, with therapists in their school classrooms for half the day, and with students receiving therapy for a half day at the Washburn Center. Therapists work collaboratively with school staff, so they are all working from the same page for the students and their families. This program also helps parents develop skills to handle their children’s behavioral challenges.
Over two years, almost 220 children have received classroom and in-home mental health care. Additionally, five new therapists were hired, three of whom are Spanish-speaking, to serve communities that face disparities in access and quality of care. The center has seen an influx of families emerging with far more intense and complex mental health challenges. Between social isolation, rising community violence, and growing financial hardship of the past three years, there’s a greater amount and intensity of care for each child. This innovative, affordable, and accessible therapy is helping families really in need with help to navigate the stresses that our communities experienced during the pandemic and beyond.
Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center (DCAC) serves abused children and their families in Bismarck, North Dakota. A grant from us allowed DCAC to hire a new therapist for its Telehealth/> Outreach Program for Traumatized Youth. By the end of 2022, nearly 50% of all DCAC’s services were telehealth counseling sessions for youth who otherwise couldn’t access care.
To address a continuously increasing demand for their services, DCAC used funds from Medica to hire a new therapist for their Telehealth Outreach Program for Traumatized Youth. The program serves children ages 7-18 through a hybrid model of telehealth and in-person therapy sessions. The children are provided with a laptop if needed and ‘Telebox’ materials, such as art supplies, worksheets, and games, needed to help engage them. The program requires that the children’s caretakers participate and can take place in a private setting at home, school, or another community agency.
To increase provided services by 15%, halfway through the grant year they have already seen a 12% increase, serving 251 of the 275 youth they projected to serve. The program’s second goal was to reduce barriers for clients in rural or underserved communities using telehealth. By the end of 2022, 46.2% of all counseling services were provided over telehealth, which means they are reaching children from underserved or hard-to-reach populations. The telehealth option also allows clients who live close to the therapy center to pivot from in-person to telehealth sessions when faced with challenges like snow day closings.
“This is a proud point of our history—telehealth has been a tool that makes therapy available to all kids. It has opened the doors for so many people.” – DCAC Executive Director Paul Condol