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Medicaid cuts could affect mental health services at schools

The Jonesboro Sun - 2/23/2018

JONESBORO - A week after the murder of 17 students in a high school in Parkland, Fla., debates still swirl about the underlying cause, with one of the most common reasons being a deficient response to mental health.

As schools continue to find preventative solutions, a cut to Medicaid may hinder some school-based mental health units like the Mid-South Health Systems, which provide mental health services to most of the schools.

"Our mental health providers are the cornerstone of our health plan," Westside Superintendent Scott Gauntt said. "It really helps our students focus on issues that crop up on a daily basis."

Medicaid is undergoing a transformation and will be completely different by July, said Lori Poston, the director of child services at Mid-South.

In order to combat the declining funds to Medicaid, the state will work with a private company called Optum to determine a student's need on a three-tier system in coordination with the state-ordained Provider-led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity (PASSE) model of care, Poston said.

PASSE was created in 2017 to reduce unnecessary spending through Medicaid in Arkansas. The three tiers determine the services a student will receive, Poston said.

"They have a functional assessment and an algorithm that assigns a student to a tier," Poston said. "What they are looking at is how the symptoms they experience affects how they live every day."

While the system is still new, some schools are preparing new approaches to the behavioral science, such as the Jonesboro School District, which recently hired Von McDaniel as its director of mental health services.

McDaniel said the biggest change he believes might occur is the frequency of case management.

"Part of my job is to give services and help schools with whatever problems might arise," McDaniel said. "... I do consultations and help kids who, let's say they have referrals, if I think they need outside services, then we try to help them set that up."

While the changes in funding might make the task of case management decrease, Poston said she knows Mid-South will continue to search for new ways to help the schools.

"I think we will have to look differently on how to most efficiently serve our clients and make sure their needs are met," Poston said. "We take care of folks who need help regardless of their ability to pay. We will continue to work with the schools we serve to make sure their families are taken care of as best as we can. We may have to be more creative in our approach to make sure we can give our services."


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