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

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