Rochester, N.Y. — Advocates are calling a new plan to improve mental health care at RCSD a critical lifeline.
The district is partnering with Golisano Children’s Hospital and Rochester Regional Health, as well as community health centers, to provide telemedicine units at all RCSD schools within the next four years.
Earlier this month, Toyin Anderson, a member of The Children’s Agenda Board of Directors and Very Invested Parents advocacy group, received a call from the school nurse that her 10th-grade son was complaining of an earache, instantly triggering a wave of panic for Toyin, a single, working mother.
“I’m on the phone like ‘I need to pick you up, I need to take you to the doctor,’ — these are all the things that still need to get done in my day,” she explained. “Then, [the person at the school] said, ‘I am going to set up a telemedicine visit, and I’m like, ‘What, you have that at this school?’”
District leaders are emphasizing that these services aren’t just about medical care — it’s also about mental health.
“The importance of mental health services for our youth can’t be overstated,” said RCSD Superintendent Carmine Peluso.
Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is being used to increase the number of health centers in the district from seven to 16.
Pediatric psychologist Andy Cohen said increased access to care could pave the way for happier and healthier generations in the future.
“Early identification screening leads to better overall health and outcomes, [helping us figure out] — how do we change things long-term, and [in terms] of sustainability?” Cohen explained. “So, part of this work is helping identify kid’s behavioral health needs early, and intervene, and help them understand and break down the stigma, while being able to recognize and talk about mental health. It’s a huge change.”
Toyin said the new telehealth services meant she could stay at work while her son was seen by a doctor. He felt well enough to return to class, and even made it to his basketball practice.
“The moral of the story is I never changed what I had to do as a parent, and he didn’t have to leave school and interrupt his day, — it was amazing,” Toyin said.
Prior to receiving any medical or mental health treatment, RCSD parents will be required to provide consent for their child.
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