The plan was simple. In December, Blue Shield of California unveiled BlueSky, an initiative to provide desperately needed mental health to students in five school districts in two of California’s biggest metro areas.
When California schools closed in mid-March BlueSky’s nonprofit partner, Wellness Together, immediately transitioned from school-based therapy services to virtual meetings – via Zoom or over the phone. Since that time over 600 of these virtual counseling sessions have been completed, with many more scheduled through the end of the school year.
“I’m sincerely proud of Wellness Together’s ability to quickly pivot to a virtual experience when California schools started closing due to the pandemic,” says Bryce Williams, vice president of MindBody Medicine at Blue Shield of California.
All BlueSky schools have agreed to have their students participate in video therapy sessions to ensure continuation of services for students who have been referred to the school-based therapy program. Additionally, mental health specialists have stayed in close contact with school administrators for continuity of care for students. Wellness Together also uses an online referral process that allows school officials to refer students to the program when a need is identified. The online referral process created has not been impacted by the recent changes.
“Our clinicians have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from BlueSky administrators for the relatively seamless transition from on-campus to online mental health services for all students,” says Jeremiah Aja, assistant director of Wellness Together. “Students and families have been grateful to continue to have a confidential and safe place to process their emotions and keep growing with a continued focus on their therapeutic and academic goals.
BlueSky was initially launched in 19 middle- and high schools in Oakland Unified and San Leandro Unified school districts in Alameda County, and Sweetwater Union, Oceanside Unified and Juvenile Court & Community Schools in San Diego County. Those school districts have more than 20,000 students.
Since that time, the program has generated early, positive results. Newly released data from Wellness Together indicates that in the first eight months, 3,185 counseling sessions have been provided to students, including individual sessions, family engagement and group counseling.
Of those sessions, 1,201 took place in Bay Area schools and 1,984 in San Diego schools - the first two regions where the program has been introduced.
And of the 606 students who have been referred to the program so far, 467 students have received, or are in the process of receiving, mental health services.
“Blue Shield of California looks forward to continuing this momentum in this new COVID-19 reality,” Williams said. “Enhancing awareness, advocacy and access to mental health for students across California is so important, especially in the age of school closures that may last through the semester. As we continue to roll out and expand BlueSky, we will help tens of thousands more students improve their overall health today and throughout their lives.”
Take action: find youth mental health resources and more BlueSky information at www.blueshieldca.com/BlueSky