"It takes a village": New Hancock Health therapist, stationed in school district, settling into role

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GREENFIELD — Months after a safety committee convened by the governor implored Indiana schools to make mental health services more readily available to students, Greenfield-Central Schools has welcomed a therapist into its ranks.

Tricia Ring is a licensed clinical social worker with more than 20 years’ experience working with kids and young adults. She was hired thanks to a new partnership between the school district and Hancock Health.

Although she’s officially an employee of the health care network, Ring splits her time working in offices at Greenfield-Central High School and Greenfield Central Junior High rather than at a traditional mental-health clinic.

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The hope is that having Ring readily available to students will make it easier for those who need it to seek counseling, said Jim Bever, Greenfield-Central’s director of student services.

Ring can work with teachers and guidance counselors to find an appropriate time during the school day to meet with students. This should minimize stress for families, Bever said: Parents won’t have to take off work to transport their children to and from doctors’ offices and students won’t have to miss important classes to attend appointments.

And, if all goes as planned, Ring’s efforts will make the hours struggling students spend in school buildings more bearable — keeping them from turning to acts of violence to vent their aggressions.

“When people feel more comfortable at school — regardless of why they feel uncomfortable — they are less likely to come in and do something unthinkable,” Bever said. “We want our kids, to the greatest degree possible, feeling comfortable at school. School can be a stressful place.”

Talks about adding a therapist to Greenfield-Central schools began months ago.

Greenfield-Central and other county school districts started working with Hancock Health on a grant proposal that would later be submitted to the Lilly Foundation. The proposal outlined plans to put therapists in all four Hancock County school districts.

The grant was lucrative, the process was competitive, and unfortunately, Hancock County didn’t earn the award. But Greenfield-Central’s talks with Hancock Health continued, and the hospital system found the money within its own budget to create a position for one therapist to work within the school district.

The position and the partnership between the two entities was finalized at the start of the school year. Ring officially joined Hancock Health in September and stepped into her role following Greenfield-Central’s fall break.

The post comes with a learning curve, the district’s leaders say. Ring’s position is a completely new entity, so she’s making her way through uncharted waters, in a way, figuring things out as she goes and building a program the community can be proud of.

Her role in the school buildings is different than that of a traditional school counselor.

School counselors or guidance counselors serve a more academic role within the building, said Elizabeth Fortuna, a counselor at the junior high school. At the high school, they help students navigate graduation standards and plan for the future; at the junior high, they assist with testing and ensuring students are working their hardest to achieve top marks. They do on occasion talk with kids about anxieties, feelings and stressors.

But there are just two guidance counselors for Greenfield’s 750 junior high students, and four guidance counselors for 1,500 high school students. Sometimes, they can’t give students the long-term, specialized attention they might need to truly help them deal with their issues.

Ring, however, can provide that extra level care, Fortuna said. So, in a way, the new position only enhances what’s already being done in local schools.

Students can only be referred to Ring through their guidance counselors. Because she is a clinician, parents will be billed after a student’s session. Hancock Health accepts insurance, Medicaid or out-of-pocket payments.

Ring, who moved to Indiana from Connecticut after getting the job with Hancock Health, holds a master’s degree, but has been a social worker since her undergraduate years. She has privately counseled children, teens and young adults for more than 20 years. She also has experience working with families and veterans.

She always felt a calling to serve her community, to help those who might need an extra hand, she said. She hopes that giving students the tools to share their troubles — and to do so right inside their school — will make school feel like a safer place. She also hopes knowing her direct availability to kids will help break the stigma that often comes with mental-health care.

She’s glad to be part of the new program because it shows the dedication both the hospital and the school district are willing to take to ensure local teens are healthy and whole.

“It takes a village,” she said. “This is true collaboration for the community, the students and the school.”

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Earlier this year Gov. Eric Holcomb convened a group of educators, administrators and public safety experts to devise a new strategy for school safety in state schools. Here are highlights of their work:

Make mental health services and resources available to every student.

Develop a universal mental health screening tool for schools to utilize.

Build an “Indiana School Safety Hub” resource, making software and other aids available to all schools for things such as managing visitors who enter school buildings.

Increase spending on school safety measures, such as law enforcement officers in schools.

Amend Indiana Code to require active-shooter drills in every school.

Source: Indiana Department of Homeland Security

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Tricia Ring’s role in the school buildings will be different than that of a traditional school counselor. She will concentrate on helping students with their emotional well-being.

She is an employee of Hancock Health, and because she is a clinician, parents will be billed after a student’s session. Students can be referred to her only by a guidance counselor. Hancock Health accepts insurance, Medicaid or self-payments.

Sessions will take place at school, so parents won’t have to take their children out of school to go to appointments.

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