The latest news from around North Texas.
State leaders were back at Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's roundtable Wednesday, exploring every possible way to prevent another tragedy like the school shooting in Santa Fe.
Wednesday's talks were focused on mental health needs in state schools, and spotlighted an innovative program in Lubbock.
The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's Telemedicine, Wellness, Intervention, Triage and Referral Project, known as TWITR project, is a mental health intervention program that organizers said has stopped possible acts of school violence.
Since the program started in 2014, in response to the Sandy Hook school and Aurora theater massacres, it has used mental health screenings, specifically violent risk assessments, to get psychiatric help to hundreds of children throughout the 10 school districts it serves.
The TWITR project uses telemedicine to get teens whose behavior has raised red flags with counselors in front of a child psychiatrist, who can diagnose and prescribe treatment right away.
According to this data brief, 41,807 students have been impacted by the TWITR project, and around 1% have been referred and screened by licensed professional counselors.
Over 200 students have been triaged via telemedicine with the TTUHSC Psychiatry Department. Twenty-five students have been removed from school and 44 were placed in alternative placements. Thirty-eight students have been sent to an emergency room or inpatient hospital.
Ninety-four students were referred for anger or violence, 65 for suicidal ideation and/or self harm, 36 for depression, and 57 for other reasons (eating disturbance, anxious behavior, truancy, etc.).
Two dozen of those junior or high schoolers were immediately pulled from school, some even arrested after their mental health assessments led to the discovery of evidence, like notes and maps, of a plot to hurt others or themselves, according to Dr. Billy Philips, Executive Vice President of the rural and community health department at TTUHSC.
Dr. Philips believes a third of Texas students are troubled by some form of mental illness, yet many don't have access to professional help and telemedicine is a way to solve the problem.
"I think we have come very close, in this project, several times to averting some kind of tragedy," Dr. Philips said.
The TWITR Project operates off a $565,000 grant to serve a handful of rural school districts around Lubbock.
Gov. Abbott said he wants to explore placing the program in districts across the state.
Shay Bolm, school counselor for Ralls ISD, one of the rural districts in the TWITR projects, said she has referred at least one a student each year since 2014.
"I've had some kids come in and they're just really desperate for some help. They really have an outcry and they want help immediately," Bolm said. Ralls ISD has 515 students district-wide.
Psychiatric resources are scarce, and superintendent Chris Wade said he believes the program has made his district safer and knows it has saved students experiencing suicidal thoughts.
"With safety and security being a top priority and limited resources, having that availability to us and to our families of Ralls is huge," Wade said.
Both he and Bolm aren't sure whether it's prevented a school shooting on one of their campuses, but they both feel a program like TWITR could have stopped the Santa Fe shooting.
"I believe that, without a shadow of a doubt," Bolm said.
The program said it's had interest from at least one North Texas school district.
Parents have to consent each step of the way.