Schools Look at Youth Mental Health Needs After Hospital Closure

WHEELING — A mental health professional with Ohio County Schools says schools lost their “support system” when adolescent behavioral care ceased at Ohio Valley Medical Center.

The Robert C. Byrd Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Center at OVMC was the only facility in the area to provide hospital-based inpatient child and adolescent psychiatric and behavioral health care.

With its closure last week, school mental health professionals aren’t certain where students with serious behavioral issues now will go for treatment.

Until recently, when a guidance counselor identified a student as having mental issues that make them a danger to himself or herself, that student was referred to an emergency room for examination and treatment. They would next be sent on to the Robert C. Byrd Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Center if additional care were needed.

“From my perspective, I’m concerned that the center has closed,” said Allyson Kangisser, counselor at Woodsdale Elementary School. “With it gone, we’re not going to see that support system we’ve always seen.”

The center was a 30-bed facility where licensed clinical therapists provided mental health and behavioral treatment through individual sessions, family meetings, and cognitive group therapy.

While it is rare to see an elementary school student who is a danger to others in the school, there are a small number of cases in which a child displays subtle behaviors indicating they may have suicidal thoughts, according to Kangisser.

The protocol is to contact the child’s parents and work to see the youth receives the care they need, she said.

Kangisser said the schools will continue to do their part to identify students who need treatment and refer them to emergency rooms, but she and other counselors aren’t certain what will happen to the students after this who need additional treatment.

“We always want to be a part of the process and capture them before they get to that point,” she said.

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