1.3 Million Los Angeles Students Could Soon Access Free Teletherapy

New partnership between Hazel Health and Los Angeles County Office of Education opens door for short-term mental health support at no cost to families

LA County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo announces multimillion dollar partnership with Hazel Health at Benjamin O. Davis Middle School in Compton, California on Feb. 2. (Courtesy of LACOE)

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With mental health issues mounting, a new partnership throughout Los Angeles County schools is poised to offer licensed counseling to its more than one million K-12 students.

All 80 districts within the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s jurisdiction will have the authority to opt-in to services with Hazel Health, a telehealth provider that has partnered with districts nationwide to connect families with licensed care quickly and at no cost.

Their virtual therapy model removes some key barriers to accessing care from the equation, including insurance coverage, provider shortages or waitlists and transportation. Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second largest district, and Compton Unified have already opted in.

In California, nearly 70% of youth who’ve experienced a major depressive episode did not receive any treatment — 10% above national averages. 

However, the new partnership is not designed to support students long-term.

“Each student can typically expect an intake visit plus six weeks to two months of weekly sessions before being discharged from the Hazel program,” a spokesperson for Hazel Health told The 74 by email. “The program is short-term—if your child needs long-term mental health support, we will help identify and connect you with options in your community.”

The $24 million dollar partnership with L.A. Care Health Plan, Health Net, and the L.A. County Department of Mental Health is part of the state’s urgent push to address the youth mental health crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic and social media. In addition, racial unrest and discrimination is particularly taxing students of color, who make up 86% of Los Angeles county schools. 

Los Angeles Unified has not yet finalized their implementation plan. It may take up to twelve weeks before sessions begin, according to a spokesperson from the county’s education office.

In December, some Compton Unified students began to access at-home services, and as of last week, two district schools began offering telehealth visits onsite. By March, the district plans to offer space for students to use at every campus.

Half of mental illnesses start by age 14, and suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for children. Other school districts already partnered with Hazel include Clark County, Nevada’s largest, and Duval County Public Schools in Florida. 

While a similar teletherapy offering in Colorado enables youth 12 and up to confidentially sign up and meet with therapists on their own, Los Angeles’s partnership with Hazel will require students to be referred by a parent, guardian or school staff member. 

A wellness room at a Compton middle school where therapy sessions can be held (Courtesy of LACOE)

Over half of Hazel Health’s mental health providers are people of color and over 40% are bilingual. When necessary, clinicians use Language Line to facilitate sessions in students’ preferred language.  

“Hazel Health aligns the hiring of therapists to the demographics of its partner districts,” said Van Nguyen, Public Information Officer for the LA County Office of Education. 

The company launched its first mental health visits in the fall of 2021, which range coping mechanisms and tools for general anxiety disorder, depression, academic stress and bullying. Presently, about 22 clinical mental health positions are vacant.

“Hazel’s hiring practices involve looking for trauma-trained clinicians with deep expertise in children and teens, as well as specific passion areas and specialties (such as LGBTQ). Getting the match right is critical,” Drew Mathias, vice president of marketing, told The 74. 

Their clinicians most often use cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and dialectical behavior therapy approaches. 

Founded in 2015 by a pediatric emergency room doctor, K-12 educator, and former Apple software engineer, Hazel Health offers physical and mental health care visits to children at over 3,000 public schools.

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