By Woodrow Polston
Noble Health Foundation has announced that it will be teaming up with StartTalking, to provide a tele-counseling program for students between the seventh and 12th grade at the Van-Far R-I School District.
After being named executive director of Noble Health Foundation last spring, Elijah Haahr, former Missouri house speaker, traveled around the area to hear the health needs of the local communities. One of the first meetings took place in Vandalia, where he met with Superintendent John Fortney, who expressed his biggest concerns to him.
“Meeting with the Noble Health Foundation, we were asked what we needed, and mental health support was our first choice,” said Fortney. “We are so thankful for them for listening and working with us to create this partnership,” he added. Shortly after the meeting, Noble Health reached out to StartTalking, who provide licensed counselors to those who are not able to attend in person counseling sessions. Based in Colorado, the company was originally a Kansas City start-up that was launched by Mark Nolte in 2015.
“The program will provide up to five tele-health counseling sessions at no cost with Missouri licensed counselors,” said Fortney. “Like an emergency assistance program for teens, this program will improve our ability to support students and their families. These virtual counseling sessions take place at convenient times during the school day, designed to minimize the disruption to the student learning,” he added.
After discussions between Noble Health, StartTalking, and Van-Far, it was decided that they would move forward and launch this program at the school.
“We have said from day one, when we started the foundation, that we wanted to re-localize healthcare,” said Haahr. “Instead of figuring out ways to bring people to the healthcare, our goal as a foundation has been bringing healthcare to the people. So, we have visited different areas including Audrain, Callaway and Montgomery counties, and one of the big concerns that we had been made aware of was mental health challenges in rural areas. And as a result of the lack of available resources in these rural areas, we decided to partner with StartTalking and the Van-Far School District,” he added.
Statistics concerning suicide rates among young Americans between the age of 10-24 have risen 57% since 2007 according to the surgeon general. A report from the National Institute of Mental Health found that more than 60 percent of rural Americans lived in mental health professional shortage areas, a problem that experts say has only worsened under COVID-19 shutdowns.
“John Fortney said from the beginning that mental health challenges are on the rise,” said Haahr. “With COVID a lot of kids have had to do Zoom, in and out of school, and the counselors are overloaded. So, we decided to do the pilot program there in Vandalia. Our goal will be to eventually bring this to some other areas after this one is off the ground,” he added.
Noble Health Corp. was established in 2019. It took over management of its first hospital, Callaway Community Hospital & Clinic, formerly Fulton Medical Center & Clinic, in late 2019 and finalized the purchase of the hospital in late 2020. In March 2021, Noble Health purchased and currently manages Audrain Community Hospital and several other medical clinics in surrounding communities.