The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center in collaboration with the Ben Hill County Board of Education, Global Partnership for Telehealth (GPT) and College of Professional Advancement, Mercer University, is working to develop and implement a Pediatric Mental Health Initiative. There are several components to this initiative including, but not limited to, mental health screening tools, individual, group and family counseling, assessment services via telehealth, suicide and mental health awareness training, and community wellness events such as health fairs.
The Initiative was launched on July 14, 2021, with a day long planning workshop held at the Professional Learning Center at Ben Hill PreK Facility in Fitzgerald, GA. Dr. Shawn Haralson, Superintendent of Ben Hill County Schools, opened the day with a warm welcome and shared a motivating message about the opportunity for this initiative is to address the mental health needs of their students, the students’ families and caretakers, educators and staff, and the community at large. Wanda Kimbrell, Special Education and Pupil Services Director, welcomed the teams from all four Ben Hill County schools and made the introductions of their participants. Joan Anderson, Senior Field Representative, provided an overview of the initiative’s components and how the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center would support and facilitate the collaboration between, and among, all of the parties and participants. She and Wanda Kimbrell were joined by Hannah Williams, Rural Health Assistant, and Dee Wessel, Ben Hill Schools, who assisted with the planning and details of the day’s success.
Dr. Priscilla Danheiser, Dean of the College of Professional Advancement, Mercer University; Dr . Karen D. Rowland, Program Coordinator and Department Chair, MS in School Counseling; Dr. Nadia G. Barnett, Program Coordinator, MS in Human Services; Dr. Carrie Elder, Director of the MS Human Services Program; Dr. Tyler Wilkinson, Program Coordinator, Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision; and Dr. Kristina Henderson, Program Coordinator for MS in Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling all participated virtually throughout the day. They shared details of the counseling services available through their programs, as well as an overview of how such services are delivered through telehealth. Lauren Nix, RN, School Based Telehealth Director, GPT provided an excellent and comprehensive presentation of how a school based telehealth program may be developed, implemented and established, with the technical assistance of Mr. Brad Wells, GPT Account Manager.
The day ended with a list of next steps and a lot of enthusiasm. Planning meetings with the four Ben Hill County Schools have begun with the intention to implement this program in the 2021- 2022 Academic year.