Holland Public Schools and Holland Hospital are partnering to address the gaps and inconsistencies in care of students at risk of suicidal behavior with a new School Mental Health Care Manager.
The pilot program begins this school year with the manager serving students and families by coordinating services throughout the continuum of care to improve the quality and reduce avoidable admissions and re-admissions to the hospital, officials say.
“We have to do everything we possibly can to help young people and a family from going through a suicide,’’ Holland Superintendent Brian Davis said.
“We have over 100 Suicide Risk Assessments being performed at our middle and high school. We’ve really worked to eliminate barriers to care but this mental health care manager has been a missing a piece.’’
A school counselor and/or social worker conducts the screenings when students express suicidal thoughts to friends or staff. The results are shared with student’s parents to determine next steps of either therapy or hospitalization.
While many families do provide follow-up communication with school staff, the concern has been those who don’t and the need to prevent at-risk students from falling through the cracks.
Also, kids admitted to an emergency department for suicidal thoughts or actions, outside of normal school hours, do not always inform the school of the situation or provide an accurate account of their treatment plans.
Hendrina Cupery, Holland Hospital School Nurse, said the program is designed to address and ideally resolve the mental health issues children face so they can grow into healthy, stable and productive adults. She said Gort will be the touch point for the district, managing student cases.
Longtime Holland Hospital school nurse, Lisa Gort, is transitioning to the mental health care manager position.
Ottawa County has seen an increase in suicides among younger and younger children. In 2018, an estimated 21 percent of all suicides were teenagers, according to data from the Ottawa County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The Ottawa County Health Department (OCHD) reports that on average, five kids in every middle and high school classroom have seriously thought about taking their own life and of those, two say they have made one or more suicide attempts.
Six youth under age 20 have committed suicide in 2018, according to the preliminary data from OCHD. There have been a total of 25 suicide deaths between 2011 and 2018. Davis said the district has suffered losses in the past.
According to the hospital, the health care manager will be assuring the appropriate use of resources while focusing on positive outcomes, taking a proactive role through the early intervention and identification of at-risk students by performing a suicide risk assessment, as well as partnering with school nurses, school staff, physicians and outside agencies.
“We have an increasing number of students in our school community who are experiencing high degrees of trauma and exposure to at risk behaviors,’’ Davis said.
“This is contributing to severe mental anxiety and risk for self-harm, including cutting and suicide ideation.’’
For the second year, Davis said the districts has had access to over 40 mental health therapists through its partnership with Mosaic Counseling and Midtown Counseling. He said therapist respond the same or next day on site, eliminating two known barriers to care – cost and transportation.
For years, Holland Hospital’s School Nurse Program has provided onsite direct medical support, prevention, chronic disease management and referrals for more than 12,000 students in 26 schools within the districts of Holland, West Ottawa, Hamilton and Fennvile, as well as Holland Christian.
Colleen Perdok, Holland Hospital Fund Development Coordinator, said the Board of Directors has wanted to respond to the mental health crisis in the community. She said 50 percent of our outpatient behavioral health patients are children ages 11 to 17.
Over the course of three years, she said the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area has provided a $70,000 grant for the program position.
The hospital is actively seeking grants and donations to support and sustain the position. For more information or to give to the School Mental Health Program, visit hollandhospital.org/donate.
“Without this program, our children would not have access to quality, timely, responsive, preventative and effective mental health care that specifically addresses suicide risk,” Davis said.
Last year, Holland enrolled 3,364 students and of those 1,889 were at the middle (720) and high school (1,169) level, according to the state.
The hospital has and is collecting other donations. Davis said if the new initiative saves one life, it will be a worthy investment.
Hospital leaders plan to evaluate program growth to determine the need for a second position and/or expansion into the West Ottawa School District.