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County brings mental health services to schools

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 March 2016 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Medina school counselors Sarah Ha, left, and Linda Knipe, right, are pictured with Kelsey Wolcott, a mental health clinic therapist.

MEDINA – Medina has three school counselors working with 635 students in grades 8 through 12. They focus on academic and career preparation, but the counselors for years have juggled helping students with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

That changed in early February when a mental health clinic therapist from the Orleans County Department of Mental Health started working out of the school.

Kelsey Wolcott spends two days at Medina Central School, splitting time in the high school and elementary school. Middle schoolers also go to appointments at either school building.

Wolcott said some students feel the pressure of family life, with parents going through divorces or blending families, while others may also feel the strain of poverty, and social and academic pressures. She helps students develop coping skills for some of the challenges.

Wolcott’s presence has allowed the school district’s guidance counselors to stay focused on providing career and college guidance for students.

“We were spending an inordinate amount of time on personal counseling,” said Linda Knipe, one of Medina’s guidance counselors. “We try to clear the obstacles so they can get an education.”

Medina, Lyndonville, Kendall and Holley have all teamed in recent months with the Mental Health Department to allow a therapist to work out of the school. That way students miss less class time by not having to travel to Albion at the Mental Health clinic on Route 31. Some of the students also have transportation issues, making it difficult to get to Albion.

Marc O’Brien, the director of the county’s Mental Health Department, has been part of joint meetings with the five school district superintendents the past two years. He said other counties have tried satellite offices at schools.

“It makes it more accessible for the kids,” O’Brien said. “The superintendents have been super cooperative to work with.”

All of the new satellite sites needed approval by the state Office of Mental Health. Students still need to travel to Albion if they need to see a psychiatrist.

The satellite sites are funded just like the county’s main clinic in Albion. Insurance companies are billed for the services, O’Brien said.

“We’ve been able to broaden the footprint of the department and get out into the community,” he said. “So far it’s working great.”