Author Topic: Prompted by mass shootings, Texas poured $5M into unproven mental health program  (Read 115 times)

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Offline Elderberry

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Houston Chronicle by Allie Morris 8/6/2019

Texas lawmakers reacted to a rash of mass shootings, including one at Santa Fe High School, by pouring $5 million this year into expanding a small telemedicine project out of the Panhandle that screens students at risk of hurting themselves or others and refers them to help.

But records obtained by the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle show that the project housed at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center hasn’t lived up to its own targets.

Few of the more than 200 students screened since mid-2013 followed through with their aftercare plans for counseling or medication, according to the project’s grant filings and interviews with school districts.

What’s more, the virtual referrals have come at a steep average cost of roughly $11,600 per student — more than what the state pays school districts to educate a child for a full year.

Summer Martin, president of the Lone Star State School Counselor Association, said the state could be using that money to boost the number of school counselors in a state where there’s an average of one for every 430 students.

“Don’t get me wrong, we need the help for sure,” she said. “But that could have gone to school counselors who could have gotten a lot more resources to those students for a much smaller price tag.”

It remains to be seen how the project — known as the Telemedicine, Wellness, Intervention, Triage, and Referral Project — will use the additional $5 million to expand beyond roughly a dozen school districts in the Lubbock area. Lawmakers dedicated the money at the recommendation of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, whose office has funded the project since its inception with over $2 million in grants.

A spokesman for Abbott said it has been successful. And spokesman John Wittman called the average cost-per-student — calculated by dividing the grant funding by the number of students screened — a “simple math trick” that “does not accurately capture the effort to implement a pilot project of this nature in West Texas with a lack of available mental health services.”

“There are documented instances where students have been identified through this screening process that intended to commit acts of violence against fellow students, faculty, or themselves,” said Wittman, who referred further questions to Texas Tech. “TWITR does not conduct its own psychiatric care and is intended to identify students that need mental health care to protect those students and improve the overall safety of participating ISDs.”

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