• Article
  • May 5, 2021

Children's Hospitals Lead Legislative Effort to Improve Pediatric Mental Health Services

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing, "Examining Our COVID-19 Response: Using Lessons Learned to Address Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders." Tami D. Benton, M.D., psychiatrist-in-chief, executive director and chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) presented expert testimony.

Benton emphasized the effect the pandemic has had on children and adolescents, highlighting the increase in the number of children experiencing a mental health crisis and growing emergency department (ED) and inpatient stays due to a lack of care options.

CHOP is seeing increasing numbers of children and families coming to the ED in crisis. "Our psychiatric emergency visits have increased by 60% over the last few years, and since the onset of the pandemic, more than 30% of our ED visits are resulting in hospitalizations for psychiatric treatment," says Benton.

From 2016-2019, visits by 6 to 12-year-olds for mental health care needs doubled in children's hospitals. To raise awareness, CHA launched a campaign in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics to highlight the behavioral and mental health crisis among youth, made worse by the pandemic.

The campaign works to educate members of Congress and the Biden Administration on the urgency of the situation and the actions they can take to help mitigate the crisis. 
CHA has drafted "Strengthening Kids' Mental Health Now", a legislative proposal which helps all children access mental health services at the time they need them by strengthening our nation's mental health care system for children and youth.

From crisis management to infrastructure investments, Strengthening Kids' Mental Health Now will improve kids' access to services from early childhood through adolescence.

The proposal addresses delivery system shortcomings through three solutions:

Extend relief to the pediatric health care safety net damaged by the effects of the pandemic to improve mental health care for all children, including those facing significant health disparities. Kids are in crisis, and the mental health providers they need–pediatricians, children's hospitals and others along the care continuum, including community and school-based services, are unavailable and lack capacity and support to meet the need.

Improve access to children's mental health services through more integrated and coordinated screening, care and treatment to mitigate crisis and ensure children's access to the right care in the right place at the right time. Early and organized interventions result in better health outcomes and lower costs.

Build new and different national capacity to address mental health throughout children's development with greater focus on community-based workforce focused on prevention. A more responsive system helps kids with mental and behavioral issues at every stage of development.

CHA encourages children's hospitals to share these legislative recommendations with their congressional delegations in a bipartisan manner.