BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — At the beginning of August, Florida’s First Lady Casey DeSantis announced telehealth portals will be installed in every public school in six different panhandle counties.
The goal was to help students recover from the trauma of Hurricane Michael.
Before the storm though, Bay District Schools started to implement telehealth programs.
“We have had PanCare telehealth clinics in several of our schools and that option for telehealth was both physical and mental/ behavioral health,” said Director of Student Services Kara Mulkusky.
The project was set to expand to every school but funding slowed it down. DeSantis’ announcement of the telehealth portals put the plan back in motion.
“It’s great in that it’s just an extra modality. It’s another option for students to access mental health professionals when they’re experiencing trauma or signs of clinical symptoms,” Mulkusky said.
Every school in the district hasn’t used the portals yet though according to Mulkusky.
“The kiosks are in every school but right now as the referrals come through, that’s how it operates. It’s based on a referral and the school can make a referral for the telehealth option but the parents are the ultimately are the ones who make the decision,” she said.
From there, the parents and professionals decide what route to go moving forward.
“Not every student might be an appropriate candidate for telehealth as the best option. Some students might benefit from face to face counselors or other modalities of counseling and therapy,” Mulkusky said.
Mulkusky says though, they can use the kiosks for more than just health services.
“Parent-teacher conferences or IEP meetings when the staff is trying to reach a parent and maybe the parents have a hard time getting to school for transportation reasons or their work schedule, the kiosk can be utilized to telecommunicate with the parent,” Mulkusky said.
While the process is moving slowly, Mulkusky thinks once people see that the services are working, more families will utilize it.
“I think the more that people understand how beneficial this modality of counseling and therapy can be and that it’s out there and readily available, once that awareness spreads, I think it’ll give people reassurance that our students can be served while they’re here at school and not worry whether or not therapy sessions are taking place outside of school,” she said.
DeSantis also announced recently a Mental Health Coordinator has been hired by the capitol’s office and will be stationed first in Northwest Florida.
We’re very grateful that the First Lady saw this as a priority. I think more so especially because of the tragedy of Hurricane Michael and the trauma our students and staff are experiencing so we’re grateful that she recognized Bay County as an area most in need,” Mulkusky said.
That mental health coordinator is Darcy Abbott. The office of the Governor provided the information below about Abbott.
Abbott has nearly 30 years of experience in the field of Social Work, is a Florida Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has proven her capability to support disaster victims in need of mental health counseling. Her first experience with a disaster was in 1972 when Ms. Abbott and her family were impacted by Hurricane Agnes, which caused flooding throughout much of the Northeastern United States. In 1992, she assisted public health responders and victims of Hurricane Andrew through the Florida Department of Health.
She has served the State of Florida as an Administrator for the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration’s Bureau of Medicaid Quality, a Bureau Chief for the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and has worked in the Florida Department of Children and Families’ Office of Family Safety. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Rochester Institute of Technology and her Master of Social Work from Marywood University in Pennsylvania.
It has not been announced when Abbott will head to Northwest Florida.