Aurora Public Schools partners with virtual mental health company for free services for students

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AURORA | Starting this semester, Aurora Public Schools is partnering with telehealth company Hazel Health to provide students with free mental health services.

The partnership is designed to help fill the gap in resources as students’ mental health needs have increased and healthcare providers have become increasingly strained during the pandemic, district officials say.

Hazel Health employs healthcare providers across the country to provide telehealth visits to K-12 students for physical and mental health care. In Colorado, the company also works with Denver Public Schools and a Colorado Springs school district.

APS students in all grades are eligible for one intake session and six virtual therapy sessions through Hazel. Students can meet with providers during the school day or at home between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Hazel offers services in multiple languages and has translation services.

For some students, those six sessions may be all they need. For others, they can provide a bridge while they wait for more intensive treatment at a local facility, said Jessica O’Muireadhaigh, the district’s director of mental health and counseling.

“This ensures that they’re getting services while waiting for a spot to open up on a caseload,” she said.

The district used money from a 2018 mill levy to hire over 100 mental health professionals, which put it in a better position than some other districts when the pandemic hit. Currently, the district employs 87 school counselors, 56 school psychologists, 109 social workers and 25 special service providers. Along with Hazel, all students also have access to a school-based therapist from either HealthONE or the Aurora Mental Health Center during the school day.

However, staffing shortages in education and healthcare are still presenting challenges.

“What we are finding is when we have open positions or when somebody leaves to take a position elsewhere, it’s really hard to refill that position,” O’Muireadhaigh said. “The demand doesn’t meet the supply of mental health care providers.”

Some of Hazel’s providers live out of state but are licensed to practice in Colorado, increasing the pool of providers.

APS plans to work with Hazel on an ongoing basis. For this year and the next year it will be paid for through the federal money the district received for pandemic relief aid.

More information is available at my.hazel.co/aurorak12/info.

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