Grant will bring mental health services to rural schools via telehealth

Students in five rural school districts in Eastern and Central Washington will have access to mental health therapy via telehealth in a new service offered by The Rural Alliance in partnership with the Washington State University College of Nursing and others.

The service is made possible by a grant from All In WA, a coalition of nonprofits, businesses, individuals and government organizations. The group announced more than $2 million in grants from its COVID Relief Fund on Wednesday.

More than a third of young people who receive mental health care do so through schools, but rural school districts typically lack access to mental health counselors or therapists, said Dr. Janessa Graves, associate professor at the WSU College of Nursing. In addition, youth suicide rates are significantly higher in rural areas than in urban locations.

The new grant will allow The Rural Alliance to support the hire of a mental health therapist by NorthEast Washington Educational Service District 101 to provide telehealth services to young people in five rural school districts.

In addition, some WSU College of Nursing students in the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program will complete part of their clinical education under the supervision of the therapist, expanding the number of patients served and giving future nurse practitioners training in telehealth delivery.

“The project meets an incredible need in rural communities – providing mental health services to youth in an easily accessible manner with few barriers,” Graves said.

The Rural Alliance, formed in 2010, partners with 79 rural and remote school districts in Washington. The organization targets obstacles to equitable college and career access for rural students.

Before the pandemic, “Telemedicine was the future, the way small rural and isolated districts were going to provide different services,” said Kevin Jacka, CEO of The Rural Alliance, based in Deer Park, Washington. “It is no longer the future, but the present. This grant provides these districts an opportunity to meet a need and learn about the best practices in telemedicine.”

Graves said the WSU College of Nursing wants to expand clinical education of psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner students beyond the five school districts included in the All In WA grant. Students could provide telehealth services under the supervision of therapists and counselors already working in other districts.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the college to provide services in this way and to partner with rural schools,” Graves said. “It also allows us to live by WSU’s land-grant mission and serve these rural school districts and rural kids in a sustainable way, while exposing our students to the telehealth modality.”