Texas children’s hospitals want $300 million to improve mental health care access
Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among children ages 10-14 in 2022, according to the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas.
AUSTIN, Texas (KCBD) - When their names were called from the front of the Texas House of Representatives and Senate chambers Wednesday morning, Belle and Abby Andrews’ faces lit up from the galleries.
The two girls, who are being treated for Niemann-Pick disease at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, waved amid applause from pediatricians, health care advocates, and state lawmakers as their treatment journey was shared to call for further investment in pediatric health and mental health care statewide.
Niemann-Pick disease, informally referred to as “childhood Alzheimer’s,” is one of the many complex cases pediatricians treat throughout Texas.
“Belle and Abby,” Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) said during a resolution discussion, “thank you for your courage and strength. You are planting trees for future generations that none of us may ever see, but your dedication to the health care of all children by working through your health care needs is going to expand exponentially.”
More than a dozen state lawmakers advocated and praised the outstanding and life-saving care Texas’ children’s hospitals provide each day under the dome, celebrating the inaugural “Children’s Hospital Day” in partnership with the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas.
That advocacy group, comprised of eight hospitals across Texas, including Covenant Children’s in Lubbock, briefed lawmakers on the struggles facing pediatric medicine in the wake of COVID-19 and ahead of the 2024-25 biennium.
In a lunchtime presentation Wednesday, its members targeted three areas of improvement for pediatric care: a long-term statewide mental health care plan, increased funding for access to mental health services, and Medicaid funding.
Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among children ages 10-14 in 2022, according to the CDC, and JAMA shows anxiety and depression diagnoses were up nearly 30 percent between 2016 and 2020; that is leading pediatricians to call for a more “cohesive continuum of care” for children facing severe mental health issues, according to CHAT’s legislative briefing materials.
“Currently the data to support the number and types of pediatric inpatient mental health beds needed in the state does not currently exist,” a CHAT flyer reads. “This analysis is vital to estimate that need over the next 10 years. Understanding the number, types, and locations of services needed across the state will allow for appropriate planning and development to meet the needs both in the near and long term.”
As filed last week, both initial drafts of the state budget include language that would fund this study out of the Health and Human Services Commission.
Along with that study and long-term plan, the association is calling for $300 million to go toward hospital infrastructure projects that would provide more treatment capacity, allowing them to diagnose, treat, and stabilize more children in crisis. That money could also go toward suicide prevention programs and multiple “step-down” programs, which help ease children through their mental health recovery.
More than four million children are enrolled in Medicaid or the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, representing more than half the kids in Texas and more than three out of four Medicaid cases across the state. With that in mind, CHAT warns lawmakers about making changes to Medicaid rates or adding loopholes, claiming it could make it more difficult for facilities to qualify for federal loopholes.
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