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KU Wichita Pediatrics, Psychiatry partner to add school mental health care

The community collaboration increases services at the school-based health clinic in Haysville and includes support from USD 261 along with Credit Union of America.

Group of children stands in front of an elementary school
In this file photo from 2021, Haysville students and staff were present for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new school-based health clinic.

Health clinics in two Wichita-area school districts sprang from a basic premise — come to the patient and they’ll receive the care they need — but launching them required plenty of collaboration by KU Wichita Pediatrics and others to pull off. Now, that collaboration is expanding in Haysville to provide needed mental health care.

Through the resources of Wichita-based Credit Union of America, Haysville USD 261 and the departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, students will have increased access to mental health services starting in August. The plan is to have a primary care physician and a child and adolescent psychologist available onsite, who’ll consult with a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

The COVID-19 pandemic and providers’ experiences in the clinics — Haysville’s opened last fall, Valley Center’s six months earlier — only deepened awareness of the mental health crisis among youth.

“More kids have been significantly affected by depression, anxiety and suicidality over the course of the pandemic than I have ever seen in my career,” said Kari Harris, M.D., clinic medical director and associate professor at KU School of Medicine-Wichita. “My heart goes out to the kids who are experiencing struggles that span finances, health, social relationships and family connections, and many are coping with loss of loved ones on top of this.”

“We knew there would be a mental health need, but I’m not sure that we understood how much of a need there truly would be,” said Krista Weaver, APRN, who works in Haysville and is a district graduate. “The need for mental health services is real.”

Aaron Ryan speaks during a ribbon-cutting for a school-based health clinic in HaysvilleThe credit union has committed $16,000 a year for three years, and KU Wichita Pediatrics provided matching funds. The initiative involved “a pretty cool chain of events,” said Aaron Ryan, executive director of KU Wichita Medical Practice Association, which handles business for the clinics.

“What I really love about this project is the way the psychiatry department and the pediatric department and the community came together to make it happen,” said Ryan, a Haysville graduate. “People kind of fed off of each other and were like, ‘Well, if you're in, I'm in’ … and turned it into something meaningful instead of thinking we can’t do anything effectively with the money available.”

The initiative resonated with the credit union, said Bradley Dyer Jr., business development officer. From its roots serving teachers, the credit union’s customer base has broadened but retains education and health care focuses. And with a branch serving Haysville, it has an existing relationship with the district. That connection led to observing KU Wichita Pediatrics faculty at work.

Dyer and others at the credit union met Stephanie Kuhlmann, D.O., a clinic team member and associate professor in KU School of Medicine-Wichita’s Department of Pediatrics, through the Kansas COVID Workgroup for Kids, which advised superintendents during the pandemic. They asked about other areas needing attention. Mental health immediately came up.

“When you talk to the medical professionals, it just illuminates the level of the crisis,” Dyer said. “We wanted to do our part, and this was our way of contributing to a solution.”

Staffed by a nurse practitioner, each of the School-Based Health Clinics operate much like a doctor’s office, seeing patients, running lab work, and accessing X-rays and EKGs. Much of the caseload is kids’ stuff: respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, well child visits, mental and behavioral health, immunizations, and sports physicals and injuries.

The Haysville clinic, in the administration building, is open half days each school day, as is the one at Valley Center High School. Haysville typically sees about 15 patients weekly; Valley Center somewhat fewer. Each aims to fill gaps in care attributable to fewer local providers — requiring time-eating trips to Wichita — or practices’ caps on Medicaid patients.

A nurse exams a students leg at a school based health clinic in Valley Center“So many patients are without a primary care provider these days,” Weaver said. Plus, “many parents cannot afford to take off work for appointments. Our clinic has helped by providing hours that may fall outside of work hours or at least at a time where parents would only need to miss a short period of time.”

“We have the ability for a parent to participate in appointments for their child virtually, which minimizes lost work time or transportation issues,” Harris added.

“There seems to be a universal appreciation for having another option to access medical care, especially for same-day health needs,” said Amber Good, APRN, who works in Valley Center. “There has been a lot of feedback about the time and resources the clinic is saving families.”

“We continue to be grateful to the school districts for trying this out with us,” Harris said. “Our common goal remains to remove access barriers so students can receive important health care that helps them be healthier and stronger students.”

School-Based Health Care

Interested in having a School-Based Health Clinic at your school? Contact KU Wichita Medical Practice Association at 316-293-2620 or learn more on the School-Based Health Care page.

Above, left: Aaron Ryan, executive director of KU Wichita Medical Practice Association, which handles business for the school-based health clinics, speaks during a 2021 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the school clinic in Haysville.

Above, right: A student is examined in the school-based health clinic in Valley Center.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita