AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Independent School District has approved a contract that will keep the district’s existing program of therapists in schools as a long-term part of the district’s plan.

On Tuesday, the AISD Board of trustees approved a $2,194,5000 contract with the firm Vida Clinic, PLLC to operate AISD’s 43 School Mental Health Clinics.

Vida Clinic had already been operating 27 of these clinics, this vote now puts Vida in charge of all of the existing clinics.

Vida Clinic offers mental healthcare on campuses from licensed mental health professionals. Students, families, teachers, and staff can go into these School Mental Health Clinics for care.

For the last eight years, Vida Clinic has been partnering with AISD to office mental health services in schools and the firm’s co-founder Dr. Elizabeth Minne has been working with AISD since the district launched its first clinic at Crockett High School in the Spring of 2012.

The program has been bringing more and more schools into the fold in the years since 2012. By the 2015-2016 school year, every high school in the district had been approved for one of these clinics.

“We really believe that in order for the student to be well, we have to pay attention to the adults in that student’s life,” Minne said. “So, yes it is very effective and important to work directly with that student, but we also have to make sure that we are attending to the needs of the adults in that child’s life — meaning staff members, teachers and parents.”

Minne explained that she is not aware of any other school districts who have as many clinics run by licensed therapists as AISD.

During the 2017-2018 school year, Vida Clinics said their data shows that high school youth who had ongoing clinical care with their licensed therapists saw increased attendance, fewer disciplinary issues, a decrease in psychological distress, a decrease in issues like headaches and stomach aches, improvements in self-esteem, problem solving and improved performance on standardized tests.

In the Fall of 2018, Vida Clinic’s therapists worked with 2,630 people at AISD campuses. These therapists collaborate with counselors, administrators, nurses, teachers, and others on school campuses.

AISD campuses with SMHC’s:

  • High schools: Anderson, Austin, Bowie, Crockett, Eastside Memorial, International, Lanier, LBJ, LASA, McCallum, Reagan, Travis
  • Middle Schools: Bedichek, Bertha Sadler Means, Burnet, Dobie, Fulmore, Gus Garcia YMLA, Martin, Murchison
  • Elementary schools: Andrews, Blanton, Blazier, Casey, Cook, Doss, Guerrero-Thompson, Harris, Jordan, Kocurek, Langford, McBee, Menchaca, Norman/Sims, Oak Springs, Overton, Padron, Palm, Pecan Springs, Perez, Pillow, Wooldridge, Wooten

Selecting Vida Clinic

A patchwork of grants and donations helped the district to keep these clinics up and running at first. In 2018, the district began looking into finding sustainable, long-term funding for the SMHC’s

The district got proposals from three different firms for this contract. Vida Clinic was ranked as offering the best solutions and the best value for the district, with the added benefit of their history working with AISD.

What the clinics will offer

These clinics offer on-site intake within a 24-72 hour period, they are also available in crisis situations. The services they offer are available the entire year. The services at Vida Clinic are confidential and voluntary.

In addition to the appointments with therapists, Vida Clinic also offers coaching and consultation with teachers to help them strengthen relationships and support the individual needs of students in their classrooms.

Vida Clinic will have therapist credentialed on panels for multiple private insurance companies and government-funded programs, and AISD will provide funding to support people who are uninsured or need financial assistance.

AISD says the goal is to have no student turned away from mental health services because of their inability to afford care.

The Department of Health Services will be monitoring, measuring, and reporting on how the SMHC’s are doing.

“I would say our biggest challenge is meeting the demands for our services,” Minne explained noting that the clinics stay very busy.

“Mental health problems don’t discriminate, and because we open our doors to everybody on the campus who needs [the clinics], we find that that is a really effective way of removing mental health stigma,” she added.