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Community Health Is Helping Kids Heal and Stay Healthy

This article originally appeared in VT Digger.

For almost five years, school-based clinician Kayja Champine, MS,LCMHC, NCC, saw firsthand just how the middle school children were faced with dramatic changes in their lives. Then covid turned things upside down. (Watch our video of what kids were thinking about once the vaccine became available.)

Being thrown into the uncharted world of remote learning; experiencing the emotions and trauma of the covid pandemic and the impact on their families; they then returned to a new normal of protocol in the classroom.

Champine joined Community Health in 2022 as a social worker where she continues to work with children who are dealing with trauma and anxiety. At Community Health she can develop a relationship with a child and meet regularly outside of the school setting.  “Covid has taken such a toll on mental health,” she said.  “Kids you never would have expected need the extra support because the anxiety is so great.”

“The kids we considered high risk or red flags struggled immensely from the inconsistency from day to day,” she said. “ You have the added anxiety from the pandemic and then you have the structure taken away because they aren’t in school.”

“Covid really amplified behavioral health,” said Christopher Chadwick, Community Health Director of Behavioral Health. “It was suddenly thrust into everybody’s mind, and even people who function well had some struggles during covid, but it was especially hard for the children.”

Even prior to the height of the pandemic, the 2021 Community Health Needs Assessment highlighted mental health as one of four priority areas the Rutland region needed to address. The report said, “With the arrival of Covid-19, our community saw the number of people and families seeking assistance rise.” Housing, childcare/parenting and an aging community were also prioritized in the assessment .

Community Health has responded to the lack of behavioral and mental health providers by expanding its behavioral health staff adding pediatric and geriatric social workers and therapists. To build this staff, Community Health created internships and pathways to employment for new graduates of highly credited master’s degree programs.

“We currently have two students that are in the nurse practitioner program, so they are getting their education hours with us,” Chadwick said. “We just hired three students who have completed their master’s degrees and are working toward licensure. One of them is a pediatric social worker and two work with adults.”

Community Health has agreements with the University at Albany, Wilkes University, University of Vermont, Dartmouth and Waldon University for internships, and is currently working with Castleton University to develop a master’s program in social work with Community Health as the partner for internships and clinical training.

Care managers and social workers have become a vital part of the primary care teams at Community Health. “Team-based care is the way we are caring for patients,” said David Schneider, DO, MS-HCT, FAAP, Associate Medical Director at Community Health Pediatrics. “So much of care management is outreach and increasing accessibility to care. The care managers are saving families lives every day.”

Community Health Pediatrics has five pediatric social workers or licensed mental health counselors and three dedicated RN care managers. “There are so many social, family and school stresses going on,” Dr. Schneider said. “Early intervention gives our families access to the tools that increase chances for successful long-term outcomes. If struggles are neglected, over time they tend to become more complex, and may be far more challenging to overcome.”

The pandemic caused a gap in learning, changes in childcare and health care and other issues  students, families and educators are dealing with. “The normal has changed and it’s scary for everybody,” Champine said, “having to adjust to what the new normal is.”

While Champine isn’t in the schools this year, she said the challenges and setbacks are apparent. “Some people haven’t been affected at all and they just continue to move on,” she said. “Those people that say they haven’t been affected don’t realize they really are affected because they are sitting in classes with emotionally dysregulated children who are not able to access the education they once would have.”

Learn more about Community Health’s medical, dental and behavioral health services for children, adults and families on our website.

Kayja Champine, MS, LCMHC,NCC, is a Licensed Pediatric Social Worker. She joined Community Health Behavioral Health from Rutland Mental Health where she was a school-based clinician at Rutland City Middle School. 

Christopher Chadwick, MS, LADC, AFC, is Community Health Director of Behavioral Health and MAT Services.

David Schneider, DO MS-HCT, FAAP, is Associate Medical Director at Community Health Pediatrics and helps facilitate the school-based and remote telehealth programs for pediatrics.

Community Health is Vermont’s largest Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), a network of primary care, pediatric, behavioral health, dental and pharmacy services with offices in Rutland, Brandon, Castleton, West Pawlet and Shoreham. Community Dental offices are located in Rutland and Shoreham; Community Kids Dental is in Rutland; Community Health Pediatrics is in Rutland and Behavioral Health services are available at all of our locations. Community Health Express Care Centers, open 7 days a week, are located at the Rutland and Castleton Community Health Centers. For more information about Community Health, check our website

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