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New Pediatric Mental Health Initiative Launched In North Texas

The program looks to address the shortage of trained professionals in the area
Photo: Ground Picture | Shutterstock

As previously reported by Local Profile, one of the many effects of the COVID pandemic was a surge in mental health demand on a saturated healthcare system which highlighted a critical shortage of pediatric mental health professionals in the state. In response, and ahead of the end of the emergency public health subsidies, Children’s Health and the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute launched a joint initiative to address the issue.

According to CBS News, most counties in the country have a severe shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists (CAPs). Collin County, with a population of almost 300,000 children under 18 according to the latest census data available, only has 43 CAPs. While insufficient, that number seems like a luxury when compared to the neighboring counties like Fanny and Cooke where there are no CAPs at all. 

At a time when suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 – 14 and 25 – 34, according to the CDC, families with children facing a mental health crisis are many times forced to resort to the next available option: ERs. But, as a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics reported in February 2023, more than a quarter of all children in the sample returned to the ER within a 6-month period.

Children’s and MMHPI’s program looks for a more proactive approach to the shortage of professionals by providing additional training to pediatricians. The training would allow them to detect and treat mild to moderate behavioral health conditions such as anxiety, stress and depression so treatment is provided before they escalate to a crisis point.

“We have a deep responsibility to care for our children’s mental health in a faster, more efficient way,” said Dr. Sabrina Browne, pediatric psychiatrist at Children’s Health and assistant professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

The initiative was launched in 2022 in a pilot program with the participation of 75 pediatric providers who care for over 150,000 families. During its inaugural year, the program collected data from participants that showed that professionals increased their use of mental health tools and clinical consultations available at the Child Psychiatry Access Network. These resources and changes in scope allowed pediatricians to assess and treat a wider range of mental health diagnoses.

“What makes initiatives like this so important is the fact that mental illness is a pediatric disease, with 50% of most illnesses emerging by age 14, so this initiative provides an essential path forward for pediatricians, children and their families,” said Andy Keller, president and chief executive officer of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.

The training provided by the initiative was offered online and in-person at Children’s Health Specialty Center DeSoto, which temporarily served as a learning laboratory. The center will eventually move to its permanent location at the Reimagine RedBird development where it will serve not only as a training and consultation center for pediatricians but will also provide evaluation and treatment for patients requiring specialty care.