Stamford adds school-based onsite healthcare to three more elementary schools. Here's why.

Students enter the first day of school at Newfield Elementary School in Stamford, Conn. Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

Students enter the first day of school at Newfield Elementary School in Stamford, Conn. Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

STAMFORD — Stamford Public Schools have added behavioral health services to three more elementary schools, bringing the percentage of primary schools to offer such in-house clinical support to more than half.

In her weekly message to the community, Stamford superintendent Tamu Lucero said Newfield Elementary School, Toquam Magnet Elementary School and Strawberry Hill School will have behavioral healthcare services through medical provider Community Health Centers.

"These behavioral health services include individual counseling, group counseling, family counseling and crisis intervention," she wrote in her message.

Lucero also included the Anchor program in the list of schools to get the service through CHC, but Jane Hylan, the director of school-based health service for the organization, said that's still tentative.

Hylan said Anchor, which caters to struggling middle and high school students, was slated to have behavioral health care plus medical and dental services added for the site. But school district administrators decided to add in-house behavioral health services, Hylan said, with the idea that CHC could be called upon if extra support is needed.

The behavioral services are not yet live at either of the three schools, Hylan said. The biggest challenge is hiring staff, she said, as there is a shortage of clinicians.

"And I think it's really just about the environment we’re in," she said, referring to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. "We used to have this great candidate pool."

Hylan has been with CHC for about 20 years and she described the mental health crisis as unlike anything she's witnessed.

"None of us have seen the demand the way it is today," she said.

Hylan said CHC's school-based services are self-sustained by the revenue generated by insurance claims. She said her office will work with uninsured families to navigate the insurance world. 

Community Health Center already provides behavioral health support in many Stamford schools, specifically at Roxbury, Northeast, Springdale, Stark and Hart elementary schools. A behavioral health clinician is stationed at each.

The addition of Strawberry Hill, Toquam and Newfield means only four of Stamford's elementary schools will be without a dedicated behavioral clinician: Davenport Ridge, K.T. Murphy, Stillmeadow and Westover elementary schools.

Stillmeadow, however, does have a social worker through healthcare provider Family Centers, which mainly operates school-based health centers in Stamford's middle and high schools. School-based health centers, or SBHCs, are centers inside schools that offer students mental and physical care services at no cost.

Earlier this year, the state Department of Public Health put out a report listing 157 educational institutions in Connecticut deemed to be most in need of mental health support for students.

Eight Stamford schools made the list: Davenport Ridge, Northeast, Westover, Hart and Newfield elementary schools; Scofield Magnet Middle School, Rogers International School and the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering.

According to the report, those schools could benefit from more robust mental health care services.

The statewide report recommended expanding SBHCs and telehealth services for students in the schools that made the list.

Family Centers runs centers at Stamford’s two biggest high schools, Stamford High and Westhill. Each center includes at least one social worker, a nurse practitioner and an office assistant. At the Westhill location, a dentist and dental hygienist are also available.

Family Centers also has a hub at Rippowam Middle School, which can be accessed by students at AITE, since the schools share the same campus. A similar set-up exists at Dolan Middle School, which is near Toquam Magnet Elementary School. Yet another center exists at Cloonan Middle School.

In Stamford, Family Centers also provides individual social workers to AITE, Stillmeadow and Turn of River Middle School.