A $500,000 grant is being used to provide technology that will connect students with behavioral health services in Central Washington.

The award was given to Columbia Basin Health Association (CBHA) by UnitedHealthcare and Advocates for Community Health as part of its Community Health Entrepreneur Challenge.

CBHA's Director of Programs, Dalina Hoffman, says identifying a use for the grant was easy given the health care provider's patient demographics.

"We realized that over fifty percent of our patients at CBHA are under the age of eighteen, which means that over half of our patients are students at the region's different schools. So we've chosen to partner with them to help them by creating this access in an innovative way using technology that all of these students are now connected with."

Hoffman says the money will be used to employ an A.I.-powered ChatBot that will provide on-demand care.

"We know that those mobile devices tend to always be in their hands, so we helped create a QR code to guide them through the process. We use an interactive artificial intelligence to give them access so they can schedule visits with counselors who are on-site CBHA providers at their schools or at CBHA health care centers in their area."

The ChatBot technology complies with all Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations and also allows students to schedule behavioral telehealth appointments, in addition to in-person visits.

It's estimated that roughly 18% of Washington youth regularly experience depression or anxiety.

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