by Kate Evans
The Morgan County Partnership received Valley Health’s top 2023 Community Partnership grant award of $100,000 to address behavioral health needs and substance use issues for Morgan County youth.
Dr. Jason Craig, Valley Health Director of Community Health, presented Morgan County Partnership Executive Director Kristen Gingery a check for the grant award at the April 28 Morgan County Partnership Coalition meeting.
“Healthy people build strong, stable communities,” said Craig in a Valley Health press release. “By working collaboratively with community partners, we believe we can achieve meaningful results and improve health outcomes in the region.”
The $100,000 Valley Health grant will allow the Morgan County Partnership to fund four half-time school-based social workers for a year to work with Morgan County Schools students in their “Project HEAL Our Youth.”
The four staff will promote healthy decision-making and identify and strengthen factors that contribute to student well-being and reduce substance use. The funding will fully cover their salaries and benefits, Gingery said.
Valley Health gave eight nonprofit organizations a total of $200,000 in grants to address critical health needs through their one-year 2023 Community Partnership grants.
Grant recipients were chosen through a competitive application and interview process.
“Morgan County Partnership is based on the idea that by working together we can make a difference in our own communities,” said Gingery. “We believe this new initiative in our public schools will positively impact our young people. We’re excited that Valley Health sees the value in partnership and the importance of investing in Morgan County’s students.”
As part of Project HEAL Our Youth, Morgan County Partnership will provide substance use prevention curriculum and therapeutic resources including comprehensive mental health screenings, follow-up Tier 2 support groups and Tier 3 one-on-one individual therapeutic services to address school mental health and substance use concerns, Gingery said.
The four part-time social workers will be based at Berkeley Springs High School, Warm Springs Middle School, Warm Springs Intermediate School and Widmyer Elementary, she said. Paw Paw Schools and Pleasant View Elementary have social workers in place that are funded by other grants.
These social workers will use the Positive Action curriculum to encourage healthy decision-making and improved interpersonal relationships and student well-being. Substance use prevention curriculum such as Too Good For Drugs, Botvin Life Skills and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s GameChanger will also be employed.
Gingery said that Too Good For Drugs enhances youth protective factors to prevent use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. It promotes communication and resisting peer pressure.
Botvin Life Skills works to reduce drug use and violence among third to twelfth graders. Students learn how to reduce stress, problem-solve, build relationships, manage anger and to communicate better.
GameChanger is a student/peer-led prevention leadership program that works to create school environments that prevent student drug use before it starts, Gingery said. Youth learn to increase their well-being and make healthy drug-free lifestyle choices.
Morgan County Schools will begin the GameChanger pilot initiative county-wide at the start of the 2023-2024 school year at every grade level with age-appropriate programming. It’s a nice program model with youth leaders being positive leaders, she said.
The 2022 Valley Health Community Health Needs Assessment confirmed the need for additional behavioral health services in Morgan County.
Valley Health undertakes this needs assessment process every three years to understand the current health of the communities it serves as a hospital system.
Gingery said that the goal of the Valley Health Community Health Needs Assessment is to identify the top-perceived public health concerns that residents feel need addressed.
She noted that Valley Health identified mental health and substance abuse as the top factors impacting community health in the Morgan County area in their 2022 War Memorial Hospital needs assessment.
The federal government has also classified Morgan County as a behavioral health provider shortage area.
“Our community lacks sufficient behavioral health services and has minimal supports to address youth mental and substance use concerns outside of the public school system,” Gingery said.
Gingery said that according to the January/February issue of American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology, American youth are experiencing “record-high levels of anxiety and depression,”
During the last decade a steady increase has been seen in youth mental health needs and the pandemic has worsened those needs, especially in under-served rural communities.
Schools are a key place to help children. All the efforts we can do to make students healthy and happy are vital, she noted.