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ECHO Idaho provides behavioral health training for educators

by CAROLYN BOSTICK
Staff Writer | December 16, 2023 1:07 AM

A new tool for combatting the mental health crisis when it comes to children opened up across the state this September. With just a few clicks on their computer, educators and clinicians can log on for ECHO Idaho’s new K12 education program for once or twice-monthly series on behavioral health, substance use disorder prevention and treatment, or how to better support the role of the school nurse in the state of Idaho.

Eric Studebaker, director of ECHO Idaho, is quick to point out that there are many echo hubs across the United States and worldwide. Project ECHO began as a means to spread information in New Mexico in 2003 when a hepatitis outbreak there was overrunning the medical field as people were dying of the treatable illness because the need outnumbered the specialty health care providers.

ECHO Idaho partnered with University of Idaho and University of Washington School of Medicine (encompassing Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) to become an ECHO hub in 2017 and formally launched in 2018. 

The main goal of any ECHO hub is to create a digital professional learning environment at no cost to professionals within an industry.

In the two full months that the ECHO Idaho K12 program has been in place, 40 Idaho schools have had staff take part in training and locally, with several schools around Coeur d’Alene and one in Shoshone County participating in the video sessions.

“One of the things that’s really unique about the educational training we offer is the panel of experts was put together to include professionals and experts from both education and health care,” Studebaker said. 

To make sure the K12 series was open to educators and school counselors or nurses working with students, ECHO Idaho had to go through the U of I’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.

This ensured that any series a professional attended would count as accredited training for continuing education.

Classroom teachers, school counselors and school nurses have been partnering with child psychologists for the panels which consist partly of lectures and partly of HIPAA-protected case studies to dig into issues that can shed light on how to best help children. 

Pediatric neuropsychologist Dennis Woody has been able to present in a panel about brain development and some of the effects on a child’s brain when that child is exposed to excessive amounts of stress and uncertainty.

“It’s a vehicle for disseminating information and reaching out to communities that are small and perhaps not as accustomed to having information. They do a good job to reach down deep into the community and better understand what the nature of the issues are and what prevention and intervention can best work,” Woody said.

The case studies can help clinicians or teachers get into the weeds and help with concrete approaches with the best ways to work with a child with behavioral attributes earlier in the process.

Through his day-to-day work with the medical department of Optum Idaho, Woody helps manage the outpatient mental health care needs for Medicaid. To Woody, ECHO Idaho represents “a leg up for the folks in Idaho” beyond just clinicians.

Behavioral health will remain a focus for the ECHO Idaho K12 program in 2024 with resources to reach school counselors, school nurses and clinicians. In January, ECHO Idaho will launch a K12 youth suicide prevention series that will run twice a month through the end of the year. 

Studebaker said he hopes the series will provide a much-needed training outlet to tackle complicated cases when the provider or teacher is not sure what to do next.

To learn more about ECHO Idaho, visit www.uidaho.edu/academics/wwami/echo/about-echo-idaho. Questions can also be directed to echoidaho@uidaho.edu or 208-364-4072.