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Case Study: Mercer County Summer Camp First Step in Addressing Student Behavioral & Mental Health

Years of consistent two-way communication and strong relationships built with school personnel, parents, and students are the key to Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission’s (MCBHC) success in addressing student behavioral and mental health. Mix in dedicated client services and their Camp Kids program for 5th and 6th graders, and it’s a recipe for buy-in at an early age.

MCBHC, as a private, non-profit organization providing mandated state services, is an innovative delivery model in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The MCBHC assists persons with drug and alcohol, mental health, and intellectual disability needs and provides administrative oversight, centralized program intake functions, case management services, and prevention education programs. MCBHC also serves as the Single County Authority for Drug and Alcohol Program funding through the Pennsylvania Department of Health. MCBHC has provided Student Assistance Program (SAP) Liaison Services and Training for over 30 years.

Mercer County, Pa., is located in the upper left side of the state, just on the Ohio border with Youngstown, Ohio and south of Lake Erie. Its population is 110,652 and the largest city is Hermitage. MCBHC has five staff school liaisons to serve 14 school districts, with one being a charter school and another being a private school.

“We get parent involvement right out of the gate,” said Melanie Moyer, M.Ed., MCBHC certified prevention specialist for 18 years, and SAP liaison. She is also the approved SAP trainer from Mercer County for the state.

Melanie Moyer, Mercer County SAP Liasion

Melanie continued, “One way we build strong connections with our parents and schools comes from the free, annual two-week summer camp - Camp Kids - we offer annually. The educational camp focuses on healthy choices, team building, self-esteem, and drug and alcohol prevention. Families may already be familiar with the SAP liaison because of our role as camp leads. If their child is referred to the SAP liaison in later years, parents and students feel comfortable with the process and meeting with the liaison.”

Tracy Auell, MCBHC prevention program supervisor said, “That camp is unique; it is upstream prevention. It makes a huge difference in participation with SAP, when camp students enter the higher grades and a screening is recommended.”

Another way they build strong connections is through SAP staff being invited to attend parent open houses and health fairs to recruit for the camp, and they present in classrooms too.

“Each of our liaisons are attached to specific schools and they attend all SAP core team meetings,” Tracy noted. “It makes a difference in our outcomes.”

2017 GLS Grant Opportunity

The year was 2017, and Mercer County was using a ‘homegrown’ student screening tool that offered bits and pieces of what they needed. Melanie met Perri Rosen, PhD, consulting psychologist, Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services, and Tita Atte, MPH, CPH, director, Mental Health Screening, at the Center for Family Intervention Science, Drexel University. The two were presenting at a May 2017 Board meeting for SAP state trainers on the state’s Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) grant project, and they invited Mercer County to participate.

Melanie recalls they [BHC/SAP] definitely needed the bhworks software platform from mdlogix that was paid for through the grant, along with the training resources. Mercer County joined the project along with 39 other SAP liaison agencies in counties across Pennsylvania.

Their homegrown system was a paper and pencil screening that took at least an hour to complete. It covered school, family, peer, and individual environment and community questions, along with drug and alcohol screening, and gambling questions from the state’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Screening students 12 and older

SAP teams identify students ages 12 and older in need of screening and parents give consent to be part of the SAP process which may include screening. Since they deployed bhworks, they have experienced an uptick in referrals and more parent compliance with screening recommendations.

bhworks is a web-based and security compliant software platform that provides a single system to screen whole student populations where students can easily enter responses on any device with an Internet connection (desktop, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, etc.). It takes about 15 minutes to complete.

Results are immediately scored, summarized, and securely sent to the designated liaison for review. Users can add measures in current workflows and/or use the software’s validated assessment which screens across 16 domains of mental health and psychosocial risk. bhworks also gives clients access to more than 140 forms and assessments, including the PHQ-9 (depression), GAD-7 (anxiety), AUDIT-C (alcohol misuse), and C-SSRS (suicide risk). With workflows and best practices configured directly into bhworks, interventions can be managed based on a student’s risk scores.

“The software definitely elevates our ability to screen students and to help parents understand the process by presenting more specific and accurate results,” Melanie explained. “When we are referring back to the generated student outcomes report and

data, that makes a big difference in parental acceptance, particularly with the increased need we have,” Melanie explained.

“Using bhworks has also created a lot more efficiencies for us,” Melanie continued. “We have also found that students are more honest with their answers since they are more comfortable using laptops and tablets, and they complete the screener themselves.”

Suicide Prevention Network

MCBHC also serves as the county’s suicide prevention network and they share bhworks data with the network to track trends. They have seen an uptick in suicide ideation and self harm, and track additional data from the county hospital, crisis calls, and the coroner for death by suicide rates. Gathering this data is helping identify areas of need the Mercer county team can act upon for prevention and treatment services.

Provider Status

Provider shortages - psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors - are a common problem across the country, particularly for addressing the needs of teenagers and children. It has exacerbated since the pandemic. However, MCBHC has been fortunate for outpatient services that their students can get an appointment within a week or two.

Training Opportunities

Melanie said, “I am most proud that we are connected to the Pennsylvania SAP collaborative through the GLS grant. It offers a lot of training opportunities for not only our county liaisons but also our school staff, including gatekeeper training and safety planning.”

Tracy explained that when the students, teachers, and administrators came back to in-person learning this past fall, they focused on self-care for teachers and students.

“That collaborative support is critical to our SAP growth and more positive outcomes,” she said. In 2022, one improvement goal is to provide more training opportunities to school staff in the SAP program.

Editor’s Note: Melanie Moyer can be reached at to discuss her experience and answer questions with other school districts.

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