Collaboration with local school system brings mental health counseling services to rural Georgia

(Pictured above, left to right, Joan Anderson of the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, Loren Nix of the Global Telehealth Partnership, Christie Cook of Ben Hill Elementary School, Brad Wells of the Global Telehealth Partnership, Jahyna Anderson from Ben Hill Elementary School and Wanda Kimbrell with the Ben Hill County School System.)

MACON – The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, in partnership with the Ben Hill County Board of Education, Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement and Global Partnership for Telehealth, hosted the first virtual counseling session for students in the Ben Hill Elementary School through the new pediatric mental health initiative.

The initiative offers virtual counseling services to students and their families and provides mental health screening tools and suicide prevention training to educators, community members and students. The collaborative efforts of these organizations designed the Pediatric Mental Health Initiative to address a key issue in Ben Hill County, where there are currently no licensed mental health care providers.

The Ben Hill County school system, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, has recognized a significant gap in community resources and the strain on student mental health. When approached by the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center to explore a partnership offering virtual counseling to alleviate these issues, system leaders felt it would be an invaluable resource for their students.

“I truly know in my heart that this is going to be life changing for this child and a stepping stone to helping more and more students in Ben Hill County,” said Wanda Kimbrell, Director of Special Education and Services. students of Ben Hill County School System, after attending the first telehealth counseling session. “Being part of such an important project is a blessing, which I am very grateful for and so happy to be a part of. The whole team has worked so hard to make this a reality, and we have finally seen the fruits of I found myself anticipating the date of the next sessions and we put more students on the path to mental health wellness.

Counseling sessions are conducted by graduate students under the direct supervision of licensed clinical professionals from the College of Professional Advancement with technical support from the Global Partnership for Telehealth. The sessions also greatly benefit graduate students, as the initiative provides meaningful internship and practicum experiences for these clinicians by enabling faculty and students to work with underserved populations in rural Georgia and gain experience. telehealth experience.

“I have watched with great interest and awe as the Rural Health Initiative progresses to improve access to medical care for the underserved in our state. Our dream has been to find a way to ‘increasing access to exceptional mental health care for this same population,” said Priscilla Danheiser, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Professional Advancement. “Our pilot program is the first step in realizing that dream and such a wonderful opportunity for Mercer’s amazing graduate students in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, School Counseling, and Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling.We are proud of this collaborative work with the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center.

“The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center is committed to developing sustainable solutions that improve access and quality of health care in rural and underserved counties in Georgia,” added Jean Sumner, MD, Dean of Mercer University School of Medicine. “This is a great example of what can be accomplished with community involvement and the partnership of the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center.”

Ben Hill Elementary School is currently piloting the program with plans for full implementation in four Ben Hill County schools in the spring of 2022.

The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, Mercer’s College of Professional Advancement, and the Global Partnership for Telehealth want to work with other communities with disparities in mental health services to replicate this program. Inquiries about the Pediatric Mental Health Initiative can be directed to the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center by calling (478) 301-4700.

About the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center

In 2018, Georgia lawmakers earmarked special funds to create a new Rural Health Innovation Center to address the complex health care challenges and wellbeing disparities facing communities. rural. Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) received the grant funds in 2019 and officially established the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center at its Macon campus. MUSM enjoys a long-standing commitment to meeting the healthcare needs of rural Georgia, with a mission to educate physicians dedicated to addressing healthcare challenges in rural Georgia. The Center for Rural Health Innovation serves as an essential resource for rural communities to improve access to and efficiency in health care by providing research, collaboration and training opportunities.

About Career Advancement College

The College of Professional Advancement at Mercer University is committed to serving post-traditional learners. Undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs are offered to adult learners who seek to advance professionally into leadership roles in and beyond their communities. The programs provide students with distinctive multidisciplinary experiences that integrate theory and practice. In addition to providing general education and electives for various Mercer colleges and schools, the College of Professional Advancement offers degree programs in areas such as technology, public safety, public and social services, leadership and administration, health care and the liberal arts. Programs are offered at Mercer campuses in Atlanta and Macon, as well as regional college centers in Douglas and Henry counties, and online. To learn more, visit

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