LUBBOCK, Texas (CBS11 I-TEAM) – In the hours after the Santa Fe High School shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott touted the potential of a little-known mental health screening program in West Texas that identifies potentially violent students.
The mental health screening program developed by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center was highlighted Wednesday at Abbott’s roundtable discussion on school violence.
Abbott also mentioned the program in a tweet last week writing, “We want to use it across the state.”
The Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage and Referral Project (TWITR) at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center uses video-chatting to identify and treat students who are most at risk of violence at school.
Since 2014, the program has identified 215 at-risk students in the ten Lubbock-area school districts it services.
Twenty-five of those students raised enough concern that they were removed from school. Another 44 were placed in alternative schools and 38 students were sent to an emergency room or impatient hospital.
“People have asked me what is the best metric for the program and I say in the four years that we’ve run it, nothing has happened,” said Dr. Billy Philips, executive vice president for rural and community health at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.
In response to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the Criminal Justice Division of Abbott’s office gave a $565,000 grant to the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center to launch its project in a handful of rural school districts.
The way it works is teachers recommend troubled teens to the program. Those teens are then screened by licensed counselors through live video conversations and provided appropriate psychiatric services.
In some cases, students are hospitalized, removed from school, and even arrested.
The technology allows counselors to reach more students in more schools. This is especially critical in rural districts and with a statewide shortage of mental health professionals.
Dr. Philips said, “The intention of it is to get the best services we can to the students and then avert the crisis that could have potentially happened.”
No one can say if this program would have prevented the Santa Fe High School shooting.
The alleged gunman, 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, showed no obvious warning signs but had written about planning the attack in a journal, according to Abbott.
Pagourtzis also told a detective, according to the arrest affidavit, “he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told.”
Dr. Philips said, “Whether we could have found this particular kid, I don’t know but I know if we are trying to find these kind of kids and be positive about it, we are going to do better than if we don’t do anything at all.”