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Dickinson Middle School to receive psychiatric telehealth services

Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press

Youth in Dickinson currently have to travel hours out of town to receive psychiatric services. Southwestern District Health Unit (SWDHU) is piloting a program with the Center for Psychiatric Health to bring those services here.

The pilot project will begin at Dickinson Middle School this fall. If it is successful, SWDHU will partner with the school district to expand the program to other schools.

"It's not to take the place of any existing systems that are in place, so anybody that normally goes to a counselor, normally goes to Badlands or normally goes to their providers—it doesn't take the place of that. It's just adding an additional resource for the extra psychiatric health with actual psychiatrists," said Sherry Adams, executive officer of SWDHU.

The middle school offers mental health services to students already through its counselors, which they call student support liaisons.

"School counselors are trained in certain realms, certain aspects, and there are times when we need more than their services, and I would hope that this would help provide some of that," said Marcus Lewton, principal of DMS.

However, psychiatrists provide different services than psychologists and counselors.

"We have individuals in Dickinson who can do counseling and therapy ... this is not that," Adams said. "This is actually the physician that makes the diagnosis, they help with the medication, so it's kind of that upper level one."

SWDHU will provide the nurses on-site to connect students with a psychiatrist from the Center of Psychiatric Health in Grand Forks, in a secure room in the school.

The initial session would last about an hour, for which the child's parents would be present. Any appointments after the fact would be much shorter, and parents could participate over the phone.

Adams said this program will save parents the travel time they would otherwise have to take their child to a psychiatrist, save the students time for classes, and there will be less of a waiting period for them to see a psychiatrist.

Chase Breitbach, one of the school's student support liaisons, said this will especially benefit families of lower socio-economic status.

"Unfortunately, when you need those resources, it tends to cost a lot of money," he said. "You start to try and be flexible with your schedule and that's challenging because you're working with three different employers or you're trying to find a way to fill your gas tank up and get you to get to and from Fargo once a week ... it becomes kind of burdensome. The thing that I think is kind of cool about telehealth is it eliminates some of those barriers and maybe allows a little better access to those resources in Southwest North Dakota."

Initially, SWDHU will provide the service for a half day every Tuesday, but may increase availability for demand.

"If the need increases, we'll go to all day on Tuesday and then if there's additional need, then we will extend it to another day. We're going to start kind of small, try to get it figured out," Adams said.

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