Adapting to a Changing Landscape:
How a Pennsylvania agency has used BH-Works pre and post COVID
Melissa Groden was first introduced to BH-Works during a presentation to Pennsylvania approved Student Assistance Program (SAP) trainers, where her agency was offered a 2-year license to the software platform (paid by grant funds) in exchange for participation in a Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Suicide Prevention project. As the Director of Prevention, Training & Education at the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania Inc., she was immediately interested in learning more about the software platform. At the time, her staff was using a comprehensive psychosocial assessment, but the tool had limitations. Developed in the 1980s, some of the language in the assessment was no longer relevant to younger generations, and it often took students an hour to complete the 200+ questions. Though there was an option to complete the questions electronically, that process required a CD download to a computer.
At that introductory meeting, Groden was intrigued by both BH-Works and the Behavioral Health Screen (BHS), a broad-based assessment that is exclusively delivered on the platform. She saw an opportunity to simplify the SAP assessment process with a web-based system, and she was also interested in the cloud storage and reporting capabilities of the platform. After the agency experienced an office fire, Groden was already looking for ways to transition to an electronic system that could decrease - or completely eliminate- the need to keep paper files in a physical location. In January 2016, after consulting with county stakeholders, Groden was given the green light to implement BH-Works across her agency’s SAP program. When the grant period came to an end in 2018, Groden decided to directly purchase a BH-Works license for the agency.
In addition to the screening functions, which has saved her staff significant time, Groden has used BH-Works to help manage her team and their work across 87 schools in Bucks County. She is particularly fond of the reporting functions in BH-Works, which she leverages to create infographics and reports for county stakeholders and individual schools, identifying behavioral health trends and student attitudes towards mental health. Groden has also leveraged this data to market services and secure funding for her agency, expanding its use to programs outside of SAP. For example, the agency now uses BH-Works for an early intervention program that targets Philadelphia youth at risk for substance use issues.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close in March 2020, many districts across the commonwealth temporarily suspended SAP services while they addressed the challenges of a virtual learning environment. Groden was proactive in making decisions based on what the next months would look like for students, worried that accessibility to services would decrease when kids needed them most. When BH-Works went live with the telehealth module in April 2020, Groden quickly contacted the mdlogix team so she could start using those features. “Ideally, I wanted to house all information associated with the student in one place,” she explains. “And now with the telehealth and case notes functionality, that’s possible.”
As students return to their brick and mortar schools, Groden’s SAP counselors plan to continue using the BH-Works telehealth features. The ability to meet with students remotely has solved issues that were present before the pandemic. For example, some school policies require students receive a SAP assessment before returning to school after a suspension; however, students are not allowed on campus while suspended. This rule often creates unnecessary stress for parents who then have to drive the student to an office during normal business hours. With BH-Works, SAP counselors can easily administer those assessments remotely.
As the pandemic continues to complicate traditional learning, Groden and her team are developing ways the agency can support students who have decided to stay virtual for the foreseeable future. “These students are like the invisible kids now, “ she explains. “And if they don’t show up for something, it’s automatically assumed it’s because of a technology issue, when in fact it could be something more serious.” Without an internal school team to initiate referrals to SAP, Groden is worried these students will slip through the cracks when they are struggling with serious mental health problems.
In response to these issues, Groden is pushing for new ways to support the virtual student population. She also refutes the common misconception that virtual counseling sessions could create a safety issue for kids experiencing critical risk. “We always make sure we ask the student who is in the house with them, and we also make sure we have the student’s parent and emergency contact information handy before we start the session,” Groden states. She stresses that a crisis situation, such as a student experiencing suicidal thinking, has the same protocol whether the student is virtual or in-person. “We call 911 or mobile crisis, and we keep talking to the student in both situations,” she explains. “And when you’re with the student in person, there is also a risk they could get up and walk away, so I don’t really see virtual care as a bigger barrier.”
Ultimately, Groden and her staff are willing to do everything they can to support students, parents, and schools during these unprecedented times. Her decision to transition to BH-Works has given her the opportunity to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape, something that would have been impossible had she stayed with a paper-based system. She urges everyone to take inventory of the mental health supports currently available to students, noting that COVID is just part of what students are dealing with now. With increasing turmoil over politics and racial disparity issues, she sees potential for a substantial increase in mental health problems. “We have kids who are constantly surrounded by negativity, fear, and danger,” she explains. “And we’ve taken away their ability to socialize with their friends. I’m really worried about our kids right now.”
Learn more about The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania Inc.