BUCKHANNON — The Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur welcomed Kristi Walker, a Special Projects Director for Community Care of West Virginia, to their virtual meeting on Tuesday. Walker oversees projects that include behavioral health, addiction recovery and grants management.
“Suicide rates among our children is increasing,” said Walker. “Just two weeks ago, there were two high school students, one in Lewis County and one in Barbour County.” Walker stated that the isolation the pandemic has caused and children who were previously engaged in activities have lost their identity. “Students lost their senior football season, their soccer season, student government activities. We want to get kids back into the community and their activities,” said Walker.
In addition to offering mental health services in elementary schools, Walker told Rotarians that Community Care of West Virginia (CCWV) has partnered with West Virginia Wesleyan College and Davis and Elkins College to create a college program. CCWV has a counselor and case manager that travels to those schools to aide in behavioral health needs. “We are expanding,” said Walker, who noted that they have purchased locations in Buckhannon and Weston and will be doing renovations prior to opening. It was also noted that Upshur County elementary behavioral health programs are currently at maximum capacity.
CCWV additionally serves five other counties including Clay, Braxton, Lewis, Harrison, and Pocahontas. However, Pocahontas County only has Telehealth services available. Walker stated that despite the expanding services, more providers are needed. Currently there are over 75 employees including three board certified psychiatrists, two nurse practitioners, 24 therapists, 16 case managers and the rest are support staff.
“We are also looking for ways to integrate behavioral health into the primary care setting,” said Walker.
The speaker also discussed a program known as PAX GBG. “The PAX Good Behavior Game helps to build children’s self-regulation, resulting in improved focus and attention, improved test scores and other academic outcomes, reduced alcohol and other drug use, reduced psychiatric disorders, and reduced suicide. PAX is unique in arranging for peer reinforcement for exhibiting prosocial behavior and peer reinforcement for inhibiting problematic behavior. PAX truly benefits everyone by making the children the heroes of change,” stated paxis.org.
Another program is the RCORP, Rural Communities Opioid Response Program. According to rcorp-ta.org, this project is addressing treatment prevention and long-term recovery in North Central West Virginia. Specifically, the counties of Lewis, Braxton, Upshur and Southern Harrison. Using a multi-sector community wide approach CCWV and its partners are implementing evidence-based prevention and treatment services and an innovative long term recovery program that will focus not only on maintaining sobriety but developing employment skills that will continue the path of upward mobility in the communities.
A community partnership program, the Upshur Youth and Community Coalition, also provides resources to Buckhannon’s youth. A previous article written by The Record Delta Staff Writer Macie Queen, noted the mission of the Coalition is “to unite the various entities and organizations of Upshur County to serve our youth by providing resources, opportunities, activities, and personal and professional guidance to enhance positive growth and development.”
Walker states that some steps to take towards mental health are to educate our children. “I think it starts with ending the stigma. Talking to your kids opening about mental health and what they are feeling and being supportive. We really want every kid to have at least one safe person they trust talking to,” said Walker. Locally, a school counselor even designed a QR code that allows students to directly message the counselor with concerns. Walker continued to say that there are funds that would allow this to be implemented in more schools.
Rotarians expressed the want to help. Walker discussed some possible options including sponsoring students with programs for at risk kids to learn a skill at local businesses. Rotarians thanked Walker for her time and look forward to aiding in removing the stigma associated with behavioral health issues.