CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa (WTAJ)– Cambria County high schools will soon have more mental health resources in their hallways.

The county is in the process of hiring clinicians to work directly in the schools.

The program is using funds from the state’s opioid settlement funds. These funds are from a $26 billion national agreement with three pharmaceutical companies to combat the opioid crisis. The state is receiving a maximum of $1.07 billion.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced in January that all counties would receive a portion of the funds. The Cambria County Drug and Alcohol Program administrator, Frederick Oliveros, said county commissioners reached out asking ways to use the funds.

The county determined mental health services were the best option based on research and focus groups. The group found that the lack of resources at a younger age led to substance abuse later.

“We heard overwhelmingly feedback that lack of attention to mental health needs or was a reason individuals were resorting to substance abuse,” Oliveros said.

This initiative is in partnership with the Reaching Education Achievements and Clinical Mental Health Inc. They believe this would provide long-term benefits to students.

The county is projected to use $650,000 of funds annually. They plan to hire seven experienced mental health clinicians who will supervise 14 paid master’s and doctorate level interns from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

The interns will work directly in the 13 public high schools along with Bishop McCourt and Bishop Carroll High School. The goal of having counselors in schools is to give students easier access to appointments at no cost.

“By placing clinicians in the school, we hope to capture those who may not have insurance or those who may have logistical impediments to getting to appointments in the community,” Oliveros said. “And, simply having access to services where there might be a waiting list right now.”

Oliveros said that when discussing the idea with superintendents, they unanimously agreed that this was necessary. In addition, this is the beginning of the long-term initiative to maintain mental health resources in schools.

The funds plan to keep the program going for the next 18 years. Oliveros adds that they’ll continue to adjust the services as they go.

“We hope to continue the collaboration with our school districts and find where there are additional gaps and work together, so we’re not duplicating services,” Oliveros said. “We’re offering a comprehensive package and service to our families.”

Oliveros said he hopes students can develop a relationship with these new counselors and come forward if they have any concerns.

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“When that relationship develops, and kids receive services, we hope and believe this will eliminate some of the stigma surrounding mental health services and promote kids letting us know what they’re experiencing, and they are asking and participating in these services,” Oliveros said.