Health services extend to seven schools in Torrington

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TORRINGTON — A local health care provider will use a $200,000 grant to provide services to students at seven Torrington schools at no cost to families, said Gina Burrows, chief operating officer at the Community Health & Wellness Center.

“Our mission here is to care for vulnerable populations in underserved areas,” Burrows said. “So it gives us the opportunity to be in the schools to take care of these underserved children.”

Burrows said CHWC already has a presence at Torrington Middle School, Torrington High School and Oliver Wolcott Technical High School, with a combined population of around 2,500 students. The grant will allow CHWC to add behavioral health and medical services to Forbes, Southwest, Torringford and Vogel-Wetmore schools, with a combined population of nearly 1,700 additional students, she said.

The school-based health center grant is one of only 27 distributed nationwide this year by the Health Resources and Services Administration, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 27 prizes total nearly $5.4 million.

“We found that providing services to children in schools reduced barriers, rather than trying to see them in the clinic,” said Jason Kersten, director of the behavioral health program at CHWC.

For several years, and without the benefit of a subsidy, the CHWC was present in colleges and high schools, he said. “When we started trying to expand our services, that’s when we really looked for a grant opportunity to really expand behavioral health services, medical services in schools where there was this unmet need for children.”

Dr. Rocco Russo, medical director of CHWC, said attendance at school is very convenient for students and parents. “If you were like me growing up, we didn’t have a car, we were a mile and a half from elementary school. If anything happened, well, you must have known the school nurse really well. .

Nicole Battistone, CHWC Licensed Career Counselor, is a school provider at Oliver Wolcott and Torrington Middle School. “The pandemic has really had a major impact on a lot of these kids, a lot of these families,” she said. “I see that many of these children feel alone or don’t know who to turn to. And I think it’s an opportunity where they can be able to make those connections and have that support.

Maggie Hahn, an elementary school therapist, said many children she sees haven’t entered a classroom since before the pandemic. “Teachers are dealing with a lot right now with kids at totally different grade levels, different reading levels in all areas,” she said. “And they may not have time to make their students feel seen when they have those really emotional moments.”

Donna Urbinati, a pediatric nurse practitioner, said clinicians see a great need for behavioral health services.

“If the schools didn’t have them there, where would they go? Really, where would they go?” she said. “There are no community resources available to deal with the number of children they see with these issues.”

Nancy Christiano, a board-certified family nurse practitioner, said many families already know how to navigate the system and schedule routine medical visits. “But then you have families who, maybe for mental health reasons of the parents, or they are new immigrants and don’t know the system, the parents don’t know how to navigate it. Thus, a teacher or guidance counselor may see a need. And this is just another opportunity where we can help support family unity,” she said.

Christina Solomito, a family nurse practitioner, said school mental health services are a boon for parents, who don’t have to pull children out of school and take them to therapy elsewhere.

“(Students) can go there and have their therapy session,” she said. “Mental health is just as important as physical health. I think both are important for schools.

The two-year grant funds medical services at the school, including chronic disease management, diagnosis and treatment, physical exams, health education, prescriptions and referrals, according to an informational flyer. Behavioral health services include mental health assessment and intake, individual therapy, behavioral therapy, and family therapy.

The Community Health and Wellness Center is located at 469 Migeon Avenue. Its stated goal is to provide these services regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Insurance will be invoiced and no disbursements will be incurred.

For more information and to obtain the necessary registration forms in English or Spanish, go to www.chwctorr.org/covid-526979.html or call 860-489-0931.

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