Bill would provide funding for schools to provide mental health services via telemedicine

Published 10:00 pm Monday, April 16, 2018

A bill introduced last week by District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett would help schools use telemedicine to help students access mental health services. 

Peggy Bennett

Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said the goal of the legislation, introduced in the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, is to make it easier for mental health professionals and providers to connect with students who need mental health services.

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Grants would be given for four project pilots to deliver the school-linked mental health services by telemedicine. The grants are for new or existing providers and must include two pilot projects in Greater Minnesota, one in the Metro area outside of Minneapolis and St Paul, and one in Minneapolis or St. Paul.

The grants are expected to cover preparing for a private room, technical hardware such as computers and cameras, technological software and other items. The grant funding amount has not been set.

“I see addressing student mental health as one way to increase not only educational outcomes but the safety of our students,” Bennett said in a press release. “For many districts in Greater Minnesota, it’s difficult for students to access the mental health services they need. Through advances in technology and telemedicine, we can help bridge this gap for students who need mental health support.”

The bill is supported by the Minnesota School Board Association and was laid over for possible inclusion in the Health and Human Services omnibus bill.

United South Central Public Schools Superintendent Keith Fleming said though he was not aware of the legislation, any bills that link students who need mental health services with providers would be beneficial. 

USC offers a program with mental health service providers to meet with students at the school throughout the week.

“This (telemedicine) proposal would just be another opportunity,” Fleming said.

Bennett said District 23 Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, who is authoring the bill in the Senate, approached her about the proposal. Bennett said she then talked to Glenville Superintendent Jerry Reshetar and Alden-Conger Superintendent Brian Shanks, “who really liked it too,” she said.

Bennett said the bill would allow rural districts to more easily use School-Linked Mental Health Grants, a program introduced in 2007 in Minnesota that allows schools to partner with mental health professionals to provide in-school services.

By using telemedicine, local students could receive telemedicine services from a mental health professional from a larger community they otherwise would not have access to.

“I’m very excited,” Bennett said. “It’s a much-needed thing.”

She saids she feels “very confident” the legislation will pass this year.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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