Illinois launching new youth mental health program

Children's mental health
Children's mental health(MGN Online / PIXNIO)
Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 1:48 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - The Pritzker administration announced Tuesday that Illinois is launching a new $2.5 million federally funded program to help pediatricians and other healthcare providers meet the mental health needs of children. The program will strengthen mental health services in schools and emergency departments by focusing on increasing the volume of consultation services provided across the state.

The administration stated that the Illinois Department of Public Health, Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Department of Human Services, University of Illinois Chicago, and Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics will work together to provide more mental health education and training opportunities for physicians and other health care professionals. They hope the program can also improve the network of mental health resources and referrals accessible to providers and patients. There is also a possibility of direct provider-patient telehealth service programs for children.

“The last few years have been challenging for all of us and this is especially true for our children,” Gov. JB Pritzker said. “With these new dedicated resources, Illinois will better identify children who are suffering through mental health challenges and ensure they receive treatment and therapies that work while also addressing disparities in access to mental health treatment.”

The Illinois Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Expansion will be funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration through the American Rescue Plan and the Safer Communities Act. Both proposals were passed by Congress this year.

Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton said children deserve the resources that will help them develop into happy, healthy adults. She noted that access to mental health services is critical for those struggling.

“An African greeting asks, ‘Are the children well?’ We know that when our children are well, our communities are strong, and our future is bright,” Stratton said. “Illinois is committed to ensuring the children are well by initiating collaborative programs across agencies to strengthen health services, schools, and overall support for children and families throughout our state.”

The administration said this program will support pediatricians, family medicine physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. The program will also support school-based health providers and emergency department employees who are often on the frontlines when children need care.

“As a pediatrician, I have seen the unprecedented behavioral health challenges our children in Illinois have faced these past few years,” said IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra. “This trend was evident even before the emergence of COVID-19 and was exacerbated by the pandemic, which disrupted learning and relationships and increased isolation for countless children. This new program will allow providers to have more resources to address children’s needs by improving mental health education and training opportunities.”

UIC’s DocAssist program is a free psychiatric consultation service for primary care providers who need help screening, diagnosing, and treating mental health and substance use problems of children, adolescents, and perinatal women. The DocAssist program is run by the UIC College of Pharmacy through an interagency agreement with the university’s office of Medicaid innovation and HFS. DocAssist is staffed by UIC’s Department of Psychiatry’s child psychiatrists, social workers, and administrative assistants working to assist providers diagnose and treat mental health issues in children.

DocAssist Medical Director Dr. Diane Misch said the state’s new project is an important step in addressing the mental health crisis for youth in Illinois.

“The Illinois DocAssist program was created to address disparities in mental health treatment of vulnerable populations in Illinois and this partnership helps to enhance our ability to bridge the gap between primary and specialty mental health care,” Misch said. “We estimate that with the launch of the partnership, pediatric mental health consultations are projected to grow by more than 40% and we expect to see improved outcomes for at-risk youth across race, ethnicity, gender, geographic location, and socio-economic status.”

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