Jamie Taylor/River News
If the Rhinelander school board approves a new student mental health initiative, Northwest Journey will take over the Northern Achievement Center building behind James Williams Middle School.
7/15/2017 7:28:00 AM School district committee approves
adding mental health service Northwest Journey would provide intensive counseling services
School District of Rhinelander students with emotional or mental health issues and who require therapeutic counseling will have a second source for those services if the school board approves a proposal that cleared the operations and strategic planning committee Monday.
If approved, Northwest Journey will take over the former Northern Achievement Center building behind James Williams Middle School and provide a more intense therapeutic environment day treatment program. The nearest such program is provided by Northwest Journey at its Wausau location, which means students must be transported both ways every weekday during the school year, according to Maggie Peterson, director of special education/pupil services.
District superintendent Kelli Jacobi said the district had entered into an agreement with Options Counseling Services, LLC during the 2014-15 school year to provide mental health services. With services available in every district school building, the agreement has helped provide support and services for students and their families beyond what can be provided by pupil services staff.
"In the last couple years we have been working really hard on addressing mental health concerns," Jacobi said. "Having on-site services means that students don't lose out on hours and hours of school or don't get mental health care when they need it."
She said the arrangement with Options has "worked out beautifully."
"As we get into it, though, we're realizing other needs and students with far more serious needs, and we didn't really have an option for them, and this is what that is addressing," Jacobi said.
According to Peterson, Northwest Journey has not had a presence in the north central portion of the state.
"So our students, or students from further north, they ride over an hour to get to that site (in Wausau) to participate in intensive treatment during the day," Peterson said. "Then they ride an hour or more back. That distance can be something that actually prevents our families from thinking it is a good option for the child because some children who have more severe mental health issues can't tolerate that ride with other children."
Peterson said the district approached Northwest Journey with the idea of starting a Rhinelander location to better serve Rhinelander students as well as those from other northern districts.
"It's their program, run on our site. It's not our program," she said. "They would do all the insurance billing to the families."
She pointed out that the district doesn't place the students in either program, their parents make that decision.
"Families have to decide, with the help of the school and counselors, etc., that their children need that level of service," Peterson said. "But some educational services will be provided at that site."
While the new center will operate five days a week during the school year, some services will continue through the summer, either a half day or full day a couple days a week.
"It's important that the students are engaged at that time," Peterson noted.
There is no relationship between Options and Northwest Journey, and the district's pre-existing agreement with the former would not change, she added.
"Although they are separate agencies, all of these agencies know each other and sometimes make referrals from one to another," Peterson said. "But this would be the only day treatment facility north of Wausau, unless you go way onto Ashland or way west to Hayward."
She noted the district would have to invest some cleaning and painting of the building as in-kind donations, but any more substantial remodeling work to the building would be paid for by Northwest Journey.
"They looked at the facility and found it adequate," Peterson said.
While the district will not see any revenue from hosting the facility, it will save on the cost of transporting students to and from Wausau.
"We're providing them a place to provide this service as a benefit to our students?" asked committee chair Mike Roberts.
"Yes," Peterson replied, adding that teaching and counseling staff often coordinate with the student, family and Northwest Journey to provide educational services that sometimes require travel to Wausau. Hosting the services in Rhinelander would eliminate this travel.
"In this case, all they would have to do is walk across the parking lot," Peterson said. "So there are those intangible benefits for our staff in using our facility, but it's not anything monetary."
When questioned about possible liability concerns, Peterson said Northwest Journeys, like Options, will be required to carry a $1 million insurance policy as part of their contract with the district.
"They have to carry their own insurance and they have to provide proof of insurance to us," she said.
"But they aren't signing a formal lease with us, are they?" asked committee member David Holperin.
"No, it's a memorandum of understanding," Peterson replied.
Jacobi said Northwest Journey operates facilities in other districts and has MOUs that the district administration studied to make sure it would be legally protected.
She said she worked with director of business services Marta Kwiatkowski to refine the language from those other documents to create a MOU the district will use "to make us feel more protected."
"If, at any point, we feel that it's not working, we have a 30-day termination clause, and we would just discontinue the site," Jacobi said. "But they are a very well-established treatment agency, and I have no concerns about that. When they came up and met with us, they were very thorough, and both I and (social worker) Mary Rudis were very impressed with them, the fact that they were running many different, yet similar programs to what we were considering," Peterson added.
Peterson said the Northwest Journey therapeutic services provided at the SDR site will include:
Coordination of care
The committee voted unanimously to approve the memorandum of understanding and send it on to the full school board for a final decision.
The committee also approved renaming the school spirit shop at the high school due to the sponsor changing the name of his business. The applications for Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association membership for RHS and JWMS for the 2017-18 school year were also approved.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.
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