Program aids students with emotional, behavioral problems
In 1957, Vista Hill came on the scene in San Diego County to aid those struggling with mental illness.
It started by opening the first private freestanding psychiatric hospital in the area. Now, over 50 years later, the nonprofit organization has many accolades to its name and it has expanded into just about every aspect of mental health care, including working with families and schools in every community—big or small, rural or urban.
For the past 11 years, it has been involved in the Ramona community through its Learning Assistance Centers (LAC), which provides services such as individual, group, and family therapy, case management support to help link families to needed resources, behavioral support services at school and at home, crisis intervention, and psychiatric evaluations and medication monitoring.
They employ therapists, case managers, behavior specialists and psychiatrists, all at little or no cost to schools through contracts with County Mental Health using MediCal, and Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63), and AB2726 (special education, CMH resource for students needing mental health services to meet academic goals).
“We really try to target kids and families who might not otherwise receive help,” said David Taylor of Vista Hill. “There are many families in the community who, when faced with challenges, have the resources and knowledge to seek help. They look at their insurance policy, call a therapist on their plan, set an appointment, travel to the office, and get the help they need. They do this on their own as they see and recognize the issue and they know how to get help.
“These are not the kids and families that we are trying to help. The kids we see are generally those who are falling through the cracks in the system. The school teachers and staff see the problem, but the families either don’t have the resources, know-how or organization to get the child the help they need. We go to the home. We go to the school. We will meet with families anywhere. We bring interpreters and have bilingual staff. Our goal is to ensure that all kids, especially those most in need, have access to the help they need.”
The LAC does not operate a traditional offsite mental health clinic, said Taylor.
“Instead, our staff works seamlessly within the schools, in the community and at the client’s home to address behavioral issues where they occur and to facilitate a team approach to solutions,” he said. “Our staff become an integral part of the school team, attend student study meetings and IEPs, and work with school site administrators to ensure that the student’s needs are met. Our goal is to bring parents and school staff together to successfully improve the student’s health and functioning.”
While this model has been successful, Vista Hill wanted to reach more people, so in January it launched a new county-funded program, Smart Care Integrated Behavioral Health, which will offer mental health services through the clinic at 217 Earlham St. in Ramona
Helping children with emotional and behavioral problems be more successful in school improves the quality of the school and the education that the students receive, said Taylor.
“This exciting new project will focus on early detection, prevention services, treatment and community educational forums on behavioral health to children, teens and adults,” he said. “Physical health care physicians and nurses will partner with Vista Hill therapists, psychiatrists and educators to ensure comprehensive care within the community.”
Ramona Unified School District Director of Pupil Services Eileen Highley helps coordinate the services. She is looking forward to the new partnership because of the convenience it will offer families.
“They will be able to access individual and family counseling without going down the hill and it will coordinate other medical services under one roof,” she said. “There has always been the need but this will give them greater access to more than just mental health services.”
Services are generally covered by the public through MediCal and are at little or no cost to the family. Visit vistahill.org or contact Highley at 760-787-2039 for more information.
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