Children’s receives federal funding for pediatric mental health initiatives

OMAHA, Neb. (Press release) – Children’s Hospital & Medical Center announced its plans Thursday to develop, test and open innovative pediatric emergency care centers with $10 million in federal funding allocated to the state of Nebraska through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 The Emergency Mental Health Care Centers, aimed at addressing the nationwide mental health crisis and improving access to state-level care, will meet the needs of children and teens with locations in Omaha and Central/Western Nebraska . This addition will help to intervene earlier across the entire mental health continuum.

In addition, Children’s will receive $1.8 million in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services for telehealth technology to support pediatric mental health initiatives. That funding was originally found in Bill 1075 (LB1075) before it was amended in the ARPA budget. Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts signed Bill 1014 (LB1014) Wednesday afternoon.

Children’s President and CEO Chanda Chacón, MPH, FACHE, testified before the Nebraska Legislature’s Appropriations Committee in January, urging lawmakers to make a significant one-time investment in pediatric mental health initiatives.

“We congratulate and thank our partners in the state government for their commitment to children’s mental health. Their support today will greatly brighten the future of many young people,” said Chacón. “This landmark decision is the result of leadership, foresight and advocacy within our team at children’s and peer institutions across the state working together to do their part to address the unique needs of our youth.

“We are grateful for the support and approval of Governor Ricketts, Credit Committee Chair John Stinner and HHS Committee Chair John Arch during this rigorous process. It is overwhelming to see the support of members of the legislature who recognize the mental health crisis we face today and have the determination to make a one-time investment that will last a lifetime. Now is the time to work with our community partners and stakeholders, and we are committed to addressing mental health issues for children with an innovative care model.”

Youth across America are facing a mental health crisis, and national data points to a critical need for resources and support. One in five U.S. children report experiencing a mental illness in any given year, and in 2021 alone, children’s hospitals across the country reported a 45% increase in the rate of self-injury and suicide over 5 to 17 years. compared to the same period in 2019 (Sound the Alarm For Kids, 2021). Alarming trends have worsened amid the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA last year to issue an advisory and call to action titled “Protecting Youth Mental Health,” and called it an “urgent public health crisis”.

The $1.8 million in funding for telehealth technology is a statewide investment, representing $1 per Nebraskan for expanded accessibility through integrated care that will provide more direct access to services for youth in Nebraska.

“We are thrilled at the opportunity to create greater accessibility to mental health care for children in the state of Nebraska,” said Jennifer McWilliams, MD, chief of pediatric psychiatry. “Our Behavioral Health team is committed to working more efficiently, and telehealth is enabling us to achieve that goal while addressing the important needs of our pediatric population. Telehealth has exploded in recent years, especially amid of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This federal funding will help our team expand our expertise in the state, minimize barriers to care and reduce acute care needs for juvenile patients and their families.”

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