WENATCHEE - The Wenatchee-based North Central Accountable Community of Health (NCACH) Governing Board has approved just over $450,000 that will likely have a profound impact on the mental well-being of students across north central Washington.
During its April 5 meeting, the board approved a total of $456,746 to address youth mental health, resiliency, and suicide prevention across Grant, Douglas, Chelan, and Okanogan counties.
The funding will be finance a regional, peer-to-peer, school-based program called 'Hope Squad.'
The funding provides curriculum and four years of programming for all middle and high schools (48) in the North Central region; a designated coordinator will also help schools adopt the program and train staff. The Hope Squad is a school-based suicide prevention program that uses advisors to choose youth in each grade to participate as Hope Squad peers and learn about inclusion, resiliency, noticing signs, and symptoms of someone struggling and alerting advisors as to which students need someone to reach out to them.
The goal of the program is to reach youth earlier in the process before a risk of attempted suicide.
Dr. Julie Rickard, founder of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of North Central Washington, says the adoption of this program could not be more timely. Rickard says Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee has seen a 36% increase in emergency room visits for self-harm, suicide attempts, and suicide ideation in those under 18 over the last year. Rickard says the trend is tragically on the rise throughout the region.
“This program is really a game changer for our region”, said Dr. Rickard. “Having this program implemented in most schools in all four counties will allow students that move frequently to have the same experience, to be more readily accepted, and to be recognized earlier if they are struggling. That is the world I want to live in!”
According to the Hope Squad, the regional adoption of across North Central Washington schools is the largest effort of its kind in the nation.
The program is funded with support from Cambia Health Solutions, who gave $2 million to Washington’s nine Accountable Communities of Health (ACH) in early 2021. The investment from Cambia is part of a larger $11.5 million commitment to address rural mental health needs across Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
“We are grateful to Cambia for their generous and timely investment in rural mental health,” says NCACH Executive Director, Linda Evans Parlette. “We are especially excited for the opportunity to adopt this program and address these needs regionally, as that is what ACHs were designed to do.”
Efforts to launch the program have already begun, with the intention of scaling throughout the region in the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. Schools will be notified of this funding opportunity and can be early adopters, mid-adopters, late-adopters, or to not adopt the program. Together for Youth, a local youth services organization, will be appointed the contract and will work with Dr. Rickard to hire a coordinator and bring on an AmeriCorps Volunteer to assist in the roll out, sustainability, monitoring, and training for the program.
Dr. Rickard stated, “I look forward to a region where we shape the future through long-term investments in our youth.”