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Each year, approximately 1 out of every 7 adolescents will receive treatment in an inpatient, residential or day-treatment facility.i Research shows the need for mental health treatment will be in great demand in the fall of 2020, especially for the student population given the ongoing health pandemic.

In normal times, it is often challenging to identify staff priorities and responsibilities in behavioral health facilities. Due to the pandemic, many facilities have needed to make adjustments to their day-to-day practices in order to maintain operations and continue to provide high-quality services. Your facility may be searching for creative ways to decrease administrative burdens, while still ensuring the highest quality of care for your patients. Because of this, treatment centers and facilities may choose to work with external partners to provide services.

Given that the school environment can often be a cause for depression and anxiety, academic progress is critical for students during treatment. When serving and supporting school-age patients, hospitals and behavioral health facilities should consider providing academic programming. There are five key benefits to providing academic programming to your student-patients, and partnering with an external partner is one way to provide academic services without increasing the burden on your facility staff:

  1. Academic programming provides stability and a sense of normalcy during the treatment period
  2. Academic programming helps patients learn to cope with stressors and manage their mental health, supporting a successful transition from treatment back to the school environment ​
  3. Working with a partner allows your staff to focus on the clinical recovery and therapeutic services​
  4. Working with a partner frees your organization from recruiting, training, and managing your own teaching personnel​
  5. External partners managing your academic program ensure your facility is able to maintain accreditation requirements without additional administrative tasks

Let’s break down these benefits to better understand the impact academic programming can have on your facility.

1. Academic programming provides stability and a sense of normalcy during the treatment period

Because school is often a trigger for students’ anxiety and depression, the idea of falling behind on academic progress during an extended absence for mental health treatment can be daunting. Academic programs help to foster continuity and structure for students and provide the ability to continue to make academic progress during treatment.

Since school can be stressful for these patients, you may look to identify a partner with expertise serving your student population,. This could include serving similar patient ages, similar diagnoses, or partnering with similar types of facilities and programs. Your partner should be able to articulate what makes them qualified and share references that can attest to their success working with a school-aged population in a similar treatment setting. Most importantly, there should be defined best practices and instructional techniques to support your student population in this unique environment. The teacher must have experience creating an engaging experience for students and understand the key role academic programming plays in the clinical day. A collaborative partner will work with you to understand your goals and design a program to meet your clinical program’s needs.

2. Academic programming helps patients learn to cope with stressors and manage their mental health, supporting a successful transition from treatment back to the school environment

Your school-aged patients are likely enrolled in several surrounding school districts, so it is important that your academic provider has developed relationships with several local school districts and established a process for obtaining student schoolwork. Obtaining this schoolwork quickly will enable the teacher to provide individual student curriculum needs, and this district communication will importantly provide the district with ongoing reporting on student progress during treatment. When your partner works with the local school districts, students are able to receive credit for the work they complete during treatment, making it easier for them to maintain pace with their peers while they are out of the traditional classroom. This school communication also ensures that the patient’s time away from school is counted as a medical absence and does not impact their grade-level advancement.

Ultimately providing this academic programming helps school-age patients cope with the stressors that may be associated with falling behind academically and provides your patients with a more well-rounded treatment journey. This supports a more successful transition back to a traditional school environment. Maintaining this academic progress helps to decrease anxiety re-entering the classroom, which can decrease the likeliness of readmission into a treatment facility.

3. Working with a partner allows your staff to focus on the clinical recovery and therapeutic services

Behavioral health facilities may be strapped for time and resources, perhaps even more so due to limited staff resources during the ongoing pandemic. Devoting time and energy to educational programming may not be an area in which your staff has existing knowledge, and managing an academic program internally can be a drain on resources. Because of this, partnering with an external partner whose area of expertise is in academic programming is worthwhile, especially if they can do so in a cost-effective way for your facility.

Establishing a partnership with any new external partner requires significant time and resources from internal hospital or facility staff. So, you may want to consider asking your education partner what plans they have in place for a COVID-related stay-at-home order or other crisis in the future. It’s important you can be assured there are plans in place to help support any potential future limitations that may be imposed on the number of visitors allowed in the facility or on the unit due to social distancing guidelines. Any distractions related to not being prepared for these scenarios might mean your facility staff to need to identify alternative group programming during the typical class-time. This would require an additional investment of staff time and resources.

4. Working with a partner frees your organization from recruiting, training, and managing your own teaching personnel

When you work with a partner to provide your academic programming, your executive team and hospital staff is not responsible for hiring and managing teaching staff. Not only are these obligations time consuming, but there are also costs associated with the time required to doing so.

When reviewing potential academic partners, it is important to understand your responsibilities as a facility with regard to the academic program. There may be areas where you would like to be involved, while not needing to be responsible. Some questions you may consider asking during the evaluation process with a potential partner is:

  • How involved will you be in the hiring process for your facility’s teacher?
  • Do you have the opportunity to provide feedback to your education partner on the teacher’s regular performance?
  • Are there certain qualifications, including specific certifications, that are important for your facility’s teacher to have? If so, is your partner able to accommodate these needs when hiring a teacher for your facility?

Your education partner should understand the importance of the facility’s involvement in the teacher’s success and growth, while alleviating any additional responsibilities associated with training and professional development for the teaching personnel.

Managing a teacher internally is time consuming and there are expenses related to your administrative time. Obtaining student schoolwork and managing communication with the local school district is also time consuming. When you work with the right partner to provide academic programming, you are able to achieve economies of scale while being able to vocalize what is important to your facility or program.

5. External partners managing your academic program ensure your facility is able to maintain accreditation requirements without additional administrative tasks

Finally, there are many different accrediting bodies for hospitals and treatment facilities including Joint Commission, CARF, COA and state accrediting bodies. If you are serving school-aged patients for an extended period of time in which they will be unable to attend their traditional school, academic programming may be required under these standards. Since these standards often require specific reporting requirements to maintain accreditation, it is important to understand your partner’s reporting capabilities.

Questions you might consider asking during the evaluation process are:

  • Do you provide regular reporting to my facility? If so, what information are you able to provide and at what cadence?
  • Is this information tracked electronically? Or is it managed through paper documentation?
  • Is all patient data being maintained according to HIPAA-compliance?

It’s important you can be sure your partner can meet your reporting expectations and do so in a way that decreases your time on any associated administrative tasks.

In conclusion, when you work with a partner to provide academic programming to your school-aged patients, there are several benefits. Consider working with experts providing hospital instruction. LearnWell has over 25 years of experience working in various mental health facilities. To learn more about LearnWell Academics During Mental Health Treatment, request a meeting with a partnership consultant today.

iRachel N. Lipari, Ph.D., Sarra Hedden, Ph.D., Gary Blau, Ph.D., and Lisa Rubenstein, MHA (2015), Adolescent Mental Health Service Use and Reasons for Using Services in Specialty, Educational and General Medical Settings. The CBHSQ Report, SAMHSA, May 05, 2016