Florida Lawmakers Add Telehealth to Resources for Students in Crisis

Florida lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow schools and law enforcement to use telehealth to connect behavioral health counselors with students in crisis situations.

Florida lawmakers have approved a bill that would allow school systems to use telehealth to connect behavioral health counselors to students in crisis situations.

SB 590 and HB 7035, both approved by the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, on April 22, update the state’s guidelines for dealing with students in crisis, including those requiring involuntary examination for emergency treatment.

Among the updates are guidelines for using telehealth to connect those students with counselors in mobile response teams (MRTs). Created by the state Legislature in 2018 in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, MRTs are teams of behavioral health and crisis intervention counselors able to respond in person to a crisis within 60 minutes.

Recognizing that some incidents need on-demand intervention, lawmakers have added language allowing schools or law enforcement personnel to connect with the nearest team via telehealth, so that the student in crisis can be seen as quickly as possible.

Faced with a surge in students dealing with behavioral health issues – compounded in part by the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic – and a number of deadly incidents, school and law enforcement officials across the country have been integrating connected health strategies to put troubled students in front of counselors as soon as possible. With the addition of virtual visits and even phone calls, intervention could take place in minutes.

School districts are also realizing that telehealth should be part of any health plan, giving staff and students (and in some cases their families) access to care that they might not be able to access at home or in their communities. This includes access to telemental health services.

Florida has been particularly active in integrating telehealth. Last year the state set aside $2 million in CARES Act funding to improve access to behavioral health services through telehealth, and in 2019 the state opened telehealth stations in more than 60 schools across the Panhandle to help students affected by Hurricane Michael.

This latest effort focuses on students in crisis, and aims to provide real-time access to help before a crisis turns deadly.

It drew praise from the Florida Association of Managing Entities, a non-profit collection of community and business leaders focused on overseeing state and federal efforts to bring substance abuse and mental health services to the state.

“This legislation will help improve coordinated systems of care for children in crisis and expand access to on-demand crisis intervention and counseling services in schools through mobile response teams and telehealth services,” FAME CEO Natalie Kelly said in a press release. “These bills will also help children and their families connect to behavioral health care resources and develop care coordination plans.”


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