While COVID-19 cases among children are climbing in the United States, one of the pandemic's biggest effects on kids has been in behavioral health. Pediatric behavioral health specialists were already in short supply pre-COVID-19, and pandemic-induced anxiety and depression have strained resources even further.
Many children's hospitals have devised ways to address these concerns, including expanding access to behavioral telehealth services and extending school-based programs into kids' homes. Another approach: upskilling staff to meet increased demands for behavioral health care.
The key: inclusion of multiple disciplines
Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego recently developed a customized training program to bolster its employees' education around mental and behavioral health. The program, built in collaboration with the National University System, was designed to strengthen the knowledge base of employees across Rady Children's organization—including front desk, emergency and non-clinical support staff. More than 1,200 employees have participated in the initiative's online training modules so far.
"We saw a need for all of our staff—not just those in the behavioral health field—to be trained to have a deeper understanding of the key areas of mental health to provide additional support to our patients and families throughout their time with us," says Domonique Hensler, M.H.A., senior director of Care Redesign Planning and Mental Health Integration, Rady Children's.
"This initiative provided us the opportunity to customize the training to ensure our staff would be better prepared across all patient touchpoints."
Educational content tailored to meet mental health needs
The course curriculum was customized to address needs of the hospital's staff, patients and families with a specific concentration on the challenges presented by the pandemic. Among the topics of focus: awareness and recognition of mental and behavioral health issues, decreasing the stigmatization of mental health and improving employee coping and resiliency skills to handle challenging situations.
The online courses were 16 hours long and comprised of interactive modules as well as live sessions with faculty members. For applicable staff members, the courses also qualify for continuing education credits.
The behavioral health upskilling program may be part of an emerging trend at Rady Children's. The hospital recently built a similar program to provide extended training for its employees in emergency management, emphasizing long-term guidance of the pandemic response.