It was July 2020, four months into the COVID pandemic, when the Bradford County Human Services Agency in Towanda joined Pennsylvania’s Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) grant project. The funding has been used in 41 counties through the Student Assistance Program (SAP) to establish and implement policies and procedures that support statewide youth suicide prevention efforts and address behavioral health needs. The agency provides oversight and coordination of services not only for Bradford County but also Sullivan County.
Towanda is a borough and the county seat of Bradford County in Pennsylvania (the upper right hand side of the state). It is located 66 miles northwest of Wilkes-Barre, on the Susquehanna River. The name means “burial ground” in the indigenous American Algonquian language. As of the 2020 census, Towanda’s population was 2,833.
School leaders expressed their frustration in the 2019-2020 school year with the mental health services being provided in Bradford-Sullivan schools. That year, there were only 89 mental and behavioral health screenings in students ages 10 to 17 and 167 SAP team meetings. Liaisons were not showing up at the schools, and provider choice wasn’t always happening. It was decided that someone from the county was needed to represent and manage youth services and care within the Student Assistance Program.
It initially covered six Bradford county school districts for outreach efforts and seven Bradford county school districts for SAP efforts for the 2020-2021 school year. Meanwhile the Sullivan County School District opted out for SAP services during this time and used a private provider. Talia [TA LEE AH] Booth, school-based outreach & SAP liaison supervisor during this 2020-2021 school year, managed two other staff members and she personally worked with two school districts.
As part of the development of the school-based outreach program and SAP liaisons, Booth was tasked in February 2020 with finding a youth behavioral/mental health screening tool. Medical Decision Logic, Inc., known as mdlogix, was demonstrating its Student Mental Health Software System known as bhworks, at a SAP/GLS meeting. The comprehensive software has been paid for with the PA GLS funds and provided to SAP agencies. The system has multiple components for handling youth mental health, from parental consent, screening, assessment and referrals, to the telehealth module along with real-time data collection and outcome measurement.
“As I was watching what bhworks was capable of doing, I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, we need this software,’” Booth recalled. They launched use of the software system in July 2020. In a quick improvement from 2019-2020 school year, the agency attended 237 SAP team meetings and completed 221 mental health screenings with youth in 2020-2021 school year.
Booth said, “The screening tool is amazing. It’s picking up the trauma that we would not catch. We love this system as our student electronic record. It’s user friendly and when new staff join it doesn’t take long for them to learn how to use it.”
With their two-year GLS funding having ended on June 30, the Bradford County Human Services Agency signed a new contract with mdlogix to continue and expand the use of bhworks in its work.
Moving to the following school year 2021-2022, in September 2021, until March 31, 2022, the agency’s SAP Liaison team attended 196 SAP team meetings and conducted 202 screenings. The Bradford/Sullivan County Mental health department and the Bradford/Sullivan SCA merged as partners in October 2021 and were able to add an additional two prevention/liaison staff in December 2021. Talia now manages five staff in the second year of programming. The third quarter of 2022 was when they were fully staffed and could reach all seven Bradford County School Districts for outreach and SAP efforts, along with drug and alcohol prevention work in four out of seven school districts. At press time, the final three months (April to June) of the 2021-2022 school year means these numbers will go even higher.
They trained the agency staff to be SAP liaisons and included Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) work, which is captured in bhworks. The liaisons use their own parental consent form plus the SAP permission form. They add students to bhworks in order to conduct screenings. The schools give them outreach referrals, which helps with any barriers and can ease family fears. They explain what SAP and the Behavioral Health Screen (BHS) can do for a child or adolescent. They knock on doors and meet with families when necessary, but that’s after starting with a phone call or text. If there is no answer at the door, they leave a note for a parent or guardian to call the liaison.
Bradford County has a 12.2% poverty rate with areas that have little to no internet/technology availability. One district doesn’t have cell phone service, but there is internet connection in the school. If they believe a family can’t access and answer the consent and screening materials electronically, they call the parent or guardian to work out another arrangement.
Screening results are discussed with a student in person and with parents over the phone. The software offers a referral list of providers and case notes reside in bhworks.
“We upload everything–all documentation, parent letters, and school-based consent forms. This system is where all our files reside,” Booth explained. It also generates and stores real-time county data.
They hold quarterly meetings with the school districts and share the de-identified student outcome data. It covers outreach efforts, the number of students screened, and the number of students referred and the reasons for example, they cover SDOH which includes, housing, medical issues, truancy, food insecurities, clothing needs, and transportation barriers.
Since team mdlogix is always looking for ways to enhance its software in part based on client feedback, they added a drop down service menu so Bradford can add case notes for youth identified in their Summer Outreach Program.
“We absolutely love this software program. In the future, we would like to include our youth drug and alcohol SAP Liaison screening information in bhworks,” Booth added.
Editor’s Note: Talia Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.