Children standing in front of a chalk board with their hands up.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has again addressed the devastating effects of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of young people. Hazel Health is already providing fast access to equitable physical and mental health care to millions of students nationwide.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has again addressed the devastating effects of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of young people.

According to the CDC, schools have direct contact with “56 million students for at least 6 hours a day during the most critical years of their social, physical, and intellectual development.” There’s plenty of data demonstrating that for a variety of cost, mobility, and time reasons, youth in underserved communities aren’t getting the access to high-quality health care they desperately need. However, school-based health centers can be a game-changing source of access to physical and mental health services for youth who need it most.

Hazel Health is already providing fast access to equitable physical and mental health care to millions of students nationwide. Students have access to their services regardless of their financial or insurance status. I was delighted to connect with the Hazel team and discuss how they are expanding healthcare access to children and teens across the country:

Why is it important to address mental health in schools in addition to physical health?

K-12 students are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis. Before the pandemic, approximately 17% (1 in 6) U.S. youth ages 6-17 were experiencing a mental health condition each year, but as many as 60% of students (ages 12-17) with depression did not receive any treatment. Of the adolescents who did get help, nearly two thirds did so only in school. During the pandemic, depression and anxiety symptoms in youth doubled compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

Hazel Health believes that one way to make sure children and teens can access mental health services is to meet students where they spend their time - at school and at home. This removes so many of the barriers that students face when trying to seek mental health care, including months-long wait times to see a provider, transportation, and the difficulty of navigating the health care landscape to find appropriate, affordable, high quality mental health services. 

At Hazel we have found that the line between physical and mental health isn’t black and white, particularly when working with children and teens. We partner closely with school nurses, who have always known that their students who visit them frequently, complaining of stomach aches or headaches, often have something else behind that - depression, bullying, and other issues outside their control at home or in their communities, such as food or housing insecurity. School nurses and counselors have always identified these issues - Hazel gives them a resource to connect them with to address both their physical and, when needed, mental health. Hazel therapists can see students immediately short term, and then work to connect them with a local therapist or other resources for longer term counseling. 

We have focused on providing same-day service for physical health, and very short (1-2 week) wait times for mental health, to help close the gap for the 20 million children in the U.S. who lack access to high quality health care. 

Although Hazel is not a replacement for primary care providers, do you see children in rural areas using the platform more frequently due to its accessibility?

Hazel has a unique viewpoint - we work with school districts in both urban and rural communities. Transportation is a core challenge we solve, and that comes up in both rural and urban communities. In rural communities, the nearest clinic is often very far away. 23% of Americans in rural areas say access to good doctors and hospitals is a major problem in their community. However, in talking with parents and school staff, this issue is just as relevant in urban communities. In urban school districts, parents have shared with us that getting to a clinic that accepts their insurance is sometimes a 2 hour bus ride away, and costs $15. Compound that with hours of missed work to pick up their child from school, wait several days for a sick-visit appointment, travel to and from the clinic, and the cost for a family living on low wages becomes astronomical. For both urban and rural communities, entire family systems are helped when they can see a Hazel doctor or therapist right from school, and they are more likely to get care.

An additional benefit of making physical and mental health services more accessible, with less travel time or time waiting for an appointment, is that students miss much less school. In one study Hazel did with WestEd and the Department of Education, we found that nearly all telemedicine visits (94%) resulted in students safely returning to class by resolving immediate health concerns. Students who returned to class received, on average, three hours of instructional time remaining in the school day. This resulted in over 2,500 instructional hours saved over two years for this particular district.

How is Hazel addressing systematic health inequities faced by children and families in under-resourced communities?

At Hazel, addressing social determinants of health is a key component of our mission. Hazel was founded on the belief that great health care addresses not just a physical or mental ailment, but also the social and environmental context surrounding a person's health and well-being. For children across the country to experience improved health outcomes, we must consider the conditions in which they live and learn, and we must take steps to address challenges in their environment that contribute to poor health outcomes. 

Economic stability is a key predictor of good health. Today, around 37 million people in the United States live in poverty and more than 16% of children under 18 years old live below the poverty line. Many people can’t afford healthy foods, health care and housing. Hazel serves all students, regardless of their financial or insurance status. This means that all children, those who have insurance, and those who don’t, can benefit from the service. 

By providing access to physical and mental health care right from school, Hazel helps students remain in school, and parents at work (parents don’t have to take off work to take their child to the doctor, resulting in missed pay in many cases). Hazel’s Family Resource Managers help connect families to community resources such as food services and housing programs. 

We recently developed a 1-page summary of Hazel’s impact across each of the 5 core social determinants of health for more of a deeper dive into this topic. 

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