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Athol Hospital gets $1M grant for teen tele-counseling project

  • Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School



Staff Writer
Friday, November 09, 2018

ATHOL – Telemedicine – the use of two-way videoconferencing for doctors or nurses to check on patients – now includes behavioral health. And teleconference counseling services will soon be available to students of the Athol and Ralph C. Mahar high schools.

Athol Hospital has received a $1.05 million grant that will bring teleconferenced counseling services to these high school students for the next three years. Athol Hospital, Heywood Healthcare’s Quabbin Retreat, and the Northeast Telehealth Resource Center will provide and evaluate the success of school-based tele-behavioral services, compared to services provided at the Pioneer Valley Regional School, which do not include interactive video conferencing.

The goal of this project is to deliver high quality, effective tele-behavioral health service that shows improvements in clinical outcomes and in school performance of students with social-emotional problems. Organizers also hope it will reduce costs and minimize the use of more expensive health services. The grant is called an “Evidence Based Tele-Behavioral Health Network Program Grant.” 

“It’s great for rural areas, where you may have to travel one to 1½ hours  to see a specialist in Worcester or Boston, said Marissa Colcord of Heywood Healthcare.  “Students are only going to miss 30 to 40 minutes of class (for counseling), instead of having to travel half a day to see a specialist,” she said. “It also helps the parent or guardian from having to take extra time off from work in order to transport the student.”

According to Colcord, this initiative shifts traditional behavioral treatment from being isolated in medical settings and moves it out into the community, reaching children in a familiar setting, where there are other support systems. The availability of tele-behavioral services could also break down some existing barriers by offering timely access and filling “service gaps” in this rural region.