St. Luke’s University Health Network is launching its YESS! School-Based Therapy Program in the Bethlehem Area School District to help students dealing with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
YESS! – which stands for Your Emotional Strength Supported! – is available starting in July to students at 10 Bethlehem Area schools, including James Buchanan, Calypso, Fountain Hill, Freemansburg, Hanover, Lincoln, Marvine, Miller Heights and Asa Packer elementary schools and Northeast Middle School.
The program, which is part of St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Services, offers weekly psychotherapy sessions with licensed clinicians to help students overcome emotional, behavioral or social issues, which can interfere with success in school or home, according to Amie Allanson-Dundon, Network Director, Clinical Therapy Services.
St. Luke’s has set up state-licensed clinics in each of the schools and has hired Migdalia Roman (MSW, LCSW) to treat Bethlehem Area students. YESS! is also available in Northampton Area and Bangor Area school districts.
Under the scope of the program, students will be treated during 30- to 60-minute sessions for issues that include aggression, anxiety, depression, isolation, poor social skills, stress, trauma. Roman also will work to reduce disruptive behavior and improve self-monitoring skills
“This is for the student whom the guidance counselor or SAP team identifies as needing more than a 15-minute check-in with their guidance counselor,” said Jody McCloud Missmer, Network Administrator, Behavioral Health.
Sessions normally will take place at a child’s home school 12 months a year, but are now being conducted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. Sessions will be scheduled to minimize disruption to the student’s academic schedule.
Students will be referred to YESS! through their home school guidance offices. Parents, teachers, principals and others can recommend students to their guidance counselors.
Once a student is referred, YESS! will conduct a clinical psychosocial assessment to determine the best course of treatment. Psychotherapy is not medication based, but referrals to psychiatrists, who can prescribe psychotropic medications, will be made when necessary, according to Allanson-Dundon.
YESS! therapists work closely with parents, holding virtual conferences while the student is in a session or at a later time. Family therapy will also be available. In addition, the program is open to staff members at each of the 10 schools.
Therapy session costs will depend on a student’s health care coverage and co-pays. The federal Affordable Care Act requires most health care policies, including those acquired through health exchanges and Medicaid, to cover mental health services as they would for medical services.
Allanson-Dundon said St. Luke’s will work with uninsured families to get them coverage on the health exchange, Medicaid or Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). “We won’t turn a child away, we will provide any necessary referrals that are identified in the evaluation.” she said.
McCloud Missmer said the expansion of YESS! in Bethlehem Area is part of St. Luke’s commitment to breaking down barriers to care.
According to an analysis in JAMA Pediatrics (jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2724377), nearly one in six children ages 6 to 17 has a mental health disorder that could benefit from treatment. Yet nearly half of impacted children are not getting help.
McCloud Missmer said one reason for this is the shortage of professionals licensed to work with children and adolescents. In addition, families often don’t have a way to get their children to appointments, can’t leave work to do so or don’t want to pull children away from school and extra-curricular activities. Left untreated, students often struggle in school, which can lead to a lifetime of mental health and socio-economic problems.
“If we can meet with the kids while they are in school, and get them help earlier in their lives, it will prevent more serious issues as they reach adulthood,” Allanson-Dundon said.
The initial goal in Bethlehem Area is to have Roman, who speaks English and Spanish, maintain a full outpatient caseload. As the caseload builds, she said, there are plans to hire another licensed professional to join her. St. Luke’s plans to track students as they progress in school to document the success of the treatment they received.
Allanson-Dundon said there is big demand for mental health services for youth. YESS! launched in Northampton Area when the pandemic struck in March. Since then, clinicians have completed over 400 in-person or virtual sessions with students. “It is a service that will be utilized,” she said.
Parents who are interested in seeking mental health services for their children should reach out to the guidance department at their home schools. The YESS Program also has an email referral line that guidance counselors will use to make referrals.
For more information on the YESS! program, call 484-526-3735.