By Marcus Heerdt
HOT SPRINGS – The Hot Springs School District (HSSD) and Behavior Management Systems (BMS) of western South Dakota have started a new partnership that will bring much-needed mental health care to K-12 students in Hot Springs. The contract was approved at the April 2022 school board meeting and BMS began services at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.
On Thursday, Jan. 12, representatives from each organization met virtually via Microsoft Teams to discuss the new arrangement. On the call with the newspaper were BMS CEO Amy Iversen, BMS Southern Hills Site Director Kim McNemar, and HSSD Special Services Director Jacquie Schniers
“From the school side, I believe our students will get the help that they need in a setting where they are comfortable,” Schniers said. “School is an academic place and our job is to educate them, but oftentimes students need a little bit more than that, so we are happy to have this partnership that supports them as the whole child.”
“What we really want to promote is that mental health care is a part of overall healthcare,” said Iversen, who began her CEO duties at BMS in May 2022. “We really want people to view us in that way as we continue to expand our care into schools and other avenues to provide those important services.”
BMS’s history dates back 75 years to 1948, when Dr. Thomas Fox, a psychiatrist at the Fort Meade Medical Center in Sturgis, started the practice that would eventually become BMS.
In the 1960s, Fox’s practice was transformed into a non-profit organization called West River Mental Health Center (WRMHC). By 1992 WRMHC formally became BMS, which now has 159 employees with two offices in Rapid City, one in Spearfish, and one in Hot Springs. BMS offers services to more than 11,000 people in the Black Hills region.
BMS’s Hot Springs office opened in 1976 and currently has 13 staff members, with one of those employees servicing the city of Martin in Bennett County.
“Our BMS counselor Brianna Cutlip visits HSSD three times per week to conduct therapy sessions with students,” said McNemar, who has been with BMS for nearly 13 years and works out of the Hot Springs office. “Our counselors work hard with the school to find the best time to provide our services to individual students so it does not disrupt their day. We also need consent from the student’s parents or guardian to see a student.”
“Our school counselors cannot provide the necessary services that BMS is providing to our district,” said Schniers. “It is a common misconception that school counselors do therapeutic work. School counselors help students attain academic achievement, plan for post-secondary options, and help deal with emotions, interpersonal skills, and character development.”
“BMS offers cognitive behavioral therapy as well as trauma-focused therapy based on the needs of the student,” McNemar said. “Our care doesn’t stop with just the student, as BMS counselors may also meet with the entire family in sessions.”
“Students are dealing with a lot these days,” Schniers said. “The school district is currently in the process of surveying all of our students, asking which ways we can best serve their needs, which will help guide us in the right direction with this new partnership with BMS.”
McNemar also said that with the addition of BMS’s contract with HSSD, all three of the county’s public schools now collaborate with BMS, as the students in Edgemont and Oelrichs already receive BMS services at their respective schools.
Iversen then spoke on the continued need for access to mental health services in schools.
“The need for mental health services across the state is great, especially after COVID,” Iversen said. “We have seen an increase in the number of people recognizing that mental health is important, and sometimes you need to talk to someone when you are going through things in life. I think that this is a good thing because it decreases the stigma around mental health. Access to mental health services is improving across the state and the collaboration with the school goes a long way to improving access, as it is easier to have a counselor in school rather than taking students out of school in order to be seen.”
“So far we have had nothing but positive feedback from our students,” Schniers said. “That’s important and that is what will continue to drive this partnership.”
To learn more about BMS in Hot Springs visit www.bmscares.org or call Kim McNemar at (605) 745-6222. At HSSD, contact Jacquie Schniers at (605) 745-5028.