L.A. County Schools, Payers Adding Virtual Mental Health Visits

Feb. 2, 2023
Partnership with telehealth vendor Hazel Health established to bring access to mental health services for L.A. County's 1.3 million K-12 public school students

The Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), through a partnership with L.A. Care Health Plan, Health Net, and the L.A. County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH), is planning to provide access to mental health services to L.A. County's 1.3 million K-12 public school students via telehealth.

LACOE, based in Downey, is the nation's largest regional education agency, providing a range of services and programs to support the region's 80 school districts and some 2 million preschool and school-age children. The partnership with school-based telehealth company Hazel Health will use virtual care to deliver mental health support for all students, resulting in shorter wait times to connect with qualified therapists, and enabling earlier intervention, LACOE said.

To help make mental healthcare more accessible for students, all Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in the county may opt-in to participate in the Hazel Health virtual mental health program. LEAs, such as Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and Compton Unified School District, have already made the decision to leverage this service. L.A. Care Health Plan and Health Net are allocating up to $24 million to cover the services for all LEAs over two years. Funding is made possible by the Department of Health Care Services' Student Behavioral Health Incentive Program (SBHIP), authorized by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Hazel Health's virtual mental health platform allows California-licensed therapists across the U.S. to support students in school and at home. The partners are committed to connecting students to therapists who reflect and understand diverse populations. More than 60 percent of Hazel Health therapists identify as people of color, and more than 30 percent are bilingual.

According to the 2022 California Health Care Almanac, 1 in 14 children has an emotional disturbance that limits functioning in family, school, or community activities. And according to the California Master Plan for Kids' Public Health, over 284,000 children cope with major depression, and 66 percent of youth with depression do not receive treatment. Suicide rates for kids age 10-18 increased 20 percent between 2019-2020.

"This historic partnership will bring much-needed mental health support to our students across the county," Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo, M.S.W., Ed.D., said, in a statement. "We continue to see the devastating impact the pandemic has had on our children's mental well-being. This crisis has called us to collective action. As a mental health professional, I am keenly aware that partnerships and collaboration across sectors are necessary to meet our children's needs. We must remove barriers to access and continue our efforts to destigmatize help-seeking around mental health. We must also recognize that physical and mental health is crucial to teaching and learning. I look forward to continuing this critical work with our partners as we strive to improve educational and life outcomes for all children."

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