Telehealth program offered at Athol-Royalston school district

  • Maureen Donovan, Tele Behavioral Health Program Manager for Heywood Health Care, discusses the program, available to ARRSD students, during a recent meeting of the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee.  —Greg Vine

  • Quabbin Retreat Substance Use Treatment Program Manager Morgan Ban-Draoi (left) and Heywood Health Tele BehavioralHealth Program Manager Maureen Donovan discuss telecounseling services available to students in the Athol Royalston Regional School District, as well as those in the Mahar and Narragansett districts. Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 9/29/2019 9:50:11 PM
Modified: 9/29/2019 9:50:10 PM

ATHOL – The Athol Royalston Regional School District is one of just a few districts that has a telebehavioral health program available to its students.

What is telebehavioral health?

“We have three clinicians that work remotely,” explained Program Manager Maureen Donovan, “and provide behavioral health services to students. It’s seamless, it’s simple, kids love it, and we’re seeing really good results.”

The service, which operates under the auspices of Heywood Health Care, is headquartered at the Quabbin Retreat, 211 North Main St., Petersham. It serves not only ARRSD, but also Mahar/Orange and the Narragansett Regional School districts.

“Heywood was always on the cutting edge of it, and was very interested in it,” said Donovan. “Mary Giannetti, who is the grant writer for the Heywood system, got a grant to really look into it and developed a telehealth road map.”

She went on to explain the state’s Health Policy Commission provided a $450,000 grant to undertake a pilot project. Mahar and Narragansett were the districts originally covered by the pilot program. The effort at first provided just one clinician serving only 10 students.

“It really didn’t provide the full potential, so when we wrote the HRSA (Health Research Service Administration) grant we really wanted to see what it would be like to have our own clinicians in the system providing more services.”

To expand and provide more services, the program recently received a federal grant of just over $1 million.

“We have three community health workers embedded in the schools,” said Donovan, “and then we have three clinicians assigned to each school, hired under the Quabbin Retreat. They are remote, but we’re the hub.”

One reason for the push for telehealth services is the location of the districts served.

“This is a rural area,” said Substance Use Treatment Program Manager Moran Ban-Draoi, “and getting services out to a rural area, whether it be primary care physicians, whether it be behavioral health workers or clinicians, can be a challenge. Across the country, the idea of ‘tele’ is being more and more accepted and it’s a solution to a problem a lot of rural areas are facing. This seemed like a logical next step to take. This is a really good solution that works very, very well.”

“We are seeing the students are really comfortable using this modality,” said Ban-Draoi. “Children with autism like it so much more because they’re not really with a person – there's a little space between them and the clinician. A lot of students really enjoy it.”

“And,” she continued, “this is their life right now, this technology. They’re on screen all the time, so this isn’t shocking to them. They’re very engaged.”

And there is no limitation on the types of students who can avail themselves of the program.

“We will accept most comers.” said Ban-Draoi. “There isn’t a rule that it has to be special needs child, or a child with an IEP (individual education plan), or anything like that. It’s basically a counseling service embedded in the school using a teleclinician.”

“One thing we found is that the children are more consistent in keeping their appointments. It doesn’t mean the parent has to take their child out of school to go to an outside counselor. A lot of times those kids never make it back into school to finish the school day.”

Donovan said sessions tend to be weekly or bi-weekly and students tend to participate for about seven or eight weeks. They also are allowed to contact the program for follow-up if necessary. Donovan said the Heywood/Quabbin Retreat program is just one of 14 in the country to receive the HRSA, and is the only one who received the grant that works in a school system. It’s also the only program of its kind in the state of Massachusetts.

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