Transforming mental health in rural areas

Posted 6/10/21

The new sign on North Pacific Street has spurred some notice and led to some speculation. Namely, just what is Clover Educational Consulting Group? 

“Our mission,” stated Clover …

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Transforming mental health in rural areas


The new sign on North Pacific Street has spurred some notice and led to some speculation. Namely, just what is Clover Educational Consulting Group? 

“Our mission,” stated Clover Director of Operations Kelly Leevey “is to connect to and partner with the local community in order to improve the behavioral health of the region.”

In medical parlance, behavioral health is the new name for what has long been known as mental health.

Clover Educational Consulting Group is a non-profit organization which facilitates mental health in area populations. As with many businesses in Mineola, the unique location Mineola offers was key to Clover’s purchase of the recently-renovated home on North Pacific.   

Two factors combined to bring the Clover office to Mineola. First, the proximity to UT Tyler Health Science Center was a primary determinant to locating just over the Sabine, but within easy reach of Tyler. Secondly, the organization needed a well-connected jumping off point to reach into Northeast Texas.   

Leevey and Clover consultant Kathryn Wortz explained just what their services entail, “We attract and train behavioral health specialists, provide recurrent training to maintain certifications and conduct behavioral health outreach to advocacy groups.”  

The opening of this office was not without a lot of research. Central to that research was the exhaustive study, The Health Status Report of Northeast Texas, published in 2016 by the UT Health Science Center. That report recognized a significant gap in the overall health of Northeast Texas. Specifically, it quantified a telling factor which speaks volumes about that gap.

Northeast Texas has a suicide rate which is 65% higher than the statewide mark. This is not an aberration, as the number of suicides in Northeast Texas has eclipsed the statewide and U.S. marks every year from 2005-2014 (the years of the study). This is a significant finding.

Add to those characteristics the unique geography of the area, and there is a dire need for such health services. It is counterintuitive that the small town, rural nature which makes East Texas such a great place to live has made it very difficult to bring mental health care to its populace. 

Much of that has to do with geography. There are some places in Northeast Texas a long way removed from a doctor’s office. Additionally, the development of behavioral health care in America has resulted in a fork in the road. The one fork leads to psychiatric treatment. That is the expensive fork and one which is not readily available in rural East Texas.

The other path is psychological counseling. It is that field which is recognized as the medium through which behavioral health can be provided to lesser-populated areas at a reasonable cost. It is just this type of service which Clover Consulting endeavors to provide. 

A doctor of clinical psychology, Wortz explained that psychiatry is based in medical science and normally seeks a biological or chemical answer to health issues. Psychology, while also logically-footed in biology, encompasses the full range of environmental effects on health.

The Clover Group takes their cues from founder and president Tamara DeHay. A University of Texas graduate and doctor of educational psychology, DeHay stresses trust, compassion and understanding in rendering mental health assistance. That focus is mimicked by her staff at the Mineola headquarters as well as the satellite office in Austin. Fourteen committed professionals are spilt between the two offices.  

The consulting group describes their work as being like putting in a garden. They partner with medical schools to train interns and counselors in behavioral health. It is widely accepted in the field that medical professionals often leave their place of study to pursue internships elsewhere and then seldom return.

It is the hope of Clover Consulting that by facilitating behavioral health training – including internships – in Wood County, the number of qualified psychologists and counselors will increase because those receiving the training will stay. In short, they intend to plant a bountiful garden of mental health specialists.

The second branch of their efforts is the conduct of recurring training which medical professionals require to maintain certifications. 

It is the last aspect of Clover’s efforts, community outreach, which holds the most promise and may have the most immediate effect. Leevey, Wortz and their co-workers are keen to speak to, or train, any type of civic or community group. Schools, churches, civic organizations and first responders are among the most commonly consulted.

Wortz theorized that the future of behavioral health in general, and specifically in Northeast Texas, will likely be addressed by developing a cadre of professional counselors, licensed professional counselors (LPC), licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and licensed chemical dependency counselors (LCDC), she stated, will likely become the frontline for behavioral health.

From a local perspective, taking that first step, said Leevey, is absolutely critical.

“The discussion is so important,” Leevey commented, “that we will speak with practically any social group.”