Prince George’s County Public Schools will provide free telehealth to students beginning this month.

The program encompasses urgent medical care and mental health therapy sessions for students available virtually at school and at home. Resources in the program will be at no cost to students, regardless of insurance status or financial situation.

The program is expected to be integrated gradually across the county. It was designed to be introduced in middle schools first and in high schools two weeks later. Mental health services are estimated to begin in late October or early November.

PGCPS partnered with Hazel Health, the largest telehealth provider for children in the U.S., to develop the service. Travis Gayles, former Montgomery County health officer, is the chief health officer for Hazel Health.

Gayles noted in a statement that mental health resources are of utmost importance because of the correlation between increased social media usage and the risk of mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety.

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“We’ve also seen a huge uptick in mental health issues with cell phones and social media becoming mainstream among our nation’s youth,” he said.

Funding for the program was secured through legislation passed in 2021 led by Democratic Reps. Anthony Brown and Steny Hoyer, representing Districts 4 and 5, respectively, in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The $4 million federal grant passed in the House Appropriations Committee was designed to construct a pediatric telehealth network in 100 Prince George’s County Schools and expand mental health services.

Brown applauded the plan as a necessary investment in Prince George’s County youth.

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“Our schools are the cornerstones of our communities, providing support services for our kids and families well beyond the classroom. Supporting the physical and mental health of our children is essential to ensuring every child has an opportunity to succeed,” he said in a news release.

Brown also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of the importance of telehealth outside of a school environment.

Hoyer, whose district includes College Park, was briefed on the implementation of the plan in May and was hopeful about its impacts on students.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation … with Prince George’s County public health and education leaders about how federal funding I worked to secure with Rep. Brown will have an impact on the lives of so many children in the classroom and beyond,” Hoyer said in May.