AUSTIN (Nexstar) — In the legislative year following a 2018 mass school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, state lawmakers created a multi-million dollar program designed to identify distressed students and get them the mental health care they need.
State lawmakers poured $100 million into 13 health-related universities to form the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium (TCMHCC) in 2019. It was created to “address gaps in mental health care for children and adolescents in Texas.”
But its resources, which lawmakers have touted as means for preventing mass shootings, haven’t reached Uvalde yet.
The consortium was designed with five initiatives:
- create a Child Psychiatry Network (CPAN) to offer child behavioral health services and training for provider
- offer telehealth services between health institutions and local school districts to identify and help at-risk students
- providing full-time psychiatrists to serve as academic medical directors at facilities operated by community mental health providers and new psychiatric resident rotation positions at the facilities
- provide additional child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship positions at health-related institutions
- develop a plan to coordinate mental health research across the state.
One of those programs, the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine, or TCHATT, provides in-school behavioral telehealth care to students who are in need. Through TCHATT, the consortium connects schools with a network of physicians, counselors and other mental health professionals at universities across the state.
However, this service is only currently available for 377 school districts out of more than 1200 school districts in Texas. The Uvalde Consolidated School District is one of the districts not yet reached by TCHATT.
Dr. Nithya Mani, the associate director of TCHATT at Dell Medical School, said her region serves more than 200,000 students. She said the reach still isn’t wide enough.
“We could always be in more [districts].” Mani said, “We don’t have the funding to continue to increase because anytime we go into a school district, they utilize us and the number we’ve seen the numbers grow each semester.”
Mani emphasized the importance of the partnership between the mental health consortium and the school districts, relationships that largely exist due to outreach.
“Our partnerships with our schools is really one of the most important things that we do,” Mani said. “We have been blown away by how dedicated these school counselors are and how dedicated the teachers and staff are. Because they really know what’s going on with these students.”
Laura Cruzada-Davis, a spokesperson for the consortium, said in an email that its resources have not reached Uvalde CISD yet because UT-San Antonio, “had not yet had the opportunity to meet with the Uvalde School District.”
TCHATT allows for students to be referred by their parents, teachers, counselors if they are identified as possibly having a mental health concern. After parental consent has been given, the TCHATT medical team will confer with school personnel.
Greg Hansch, the executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) said overall, the consortium is taking the state in the right direction, but it needs to have a broader reach.
“We’re somewhat unique in having such a wonderful initiative available in our state. But it needs to be expanded – not enough schools have access to the consortium’s resources.” Hansch said.
Since it was created in 2019, the children’s mental health consortium has received more funding from the state legislature. Cruzada-Davis said via email that the legislature allocated an additional $230 million to the consortium in 2021, in an effort to expand the network’s reach.