The Pritzker Administration launches efforts to strengthen children’s mental health services

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IDPH, HFS and DHS partner with UIC and the American Academy of Pediatrics to provide more resources to pediatricians and other care providers

CHICAGO, IL-(Effingham Radio)- Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration announced today that it is launching a new state program designed to help pediatricians and other providers meet children’s mental health needs by strengthening mental health services in emergency rooms and schools. The new program will focus on increasing the volume of counseling services provided statewide, providing physicians and health professionals with a variety of mental health education and training opportunities, and strengthening the network of mental health resources and referrals to which Providers and their patients can access . It will also explore the feasibility of direct provider-patient telehealth services.

The $2.5 million funded program is a partnership between the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS), the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the DocAssist program of the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). and the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (ICAAP).

“The past few years have been challenging for all of us, and that’s especially true for our children,” Gov. Pritzker said. “With these new dedicated resources, Illinois will better identify children suffering from mental health problems and ensure they are receiving treatments and therapies that work, while also addressing disparities in access to mental health care.”

“Our children deserve the resources to help them grow into happy, healthy adults, which includes access to mental health services for those who are struggling,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “An African greeting asks, ‘Are the children okay?’ We know that when our children are thriving, our communities are strong and our futures are bright. Illinois is committed to helping children thrive by initiating interagency collaborative programs to strengthen our state’s health services, schools and overall support for children and families.”

“As a pediatrician, I have seen the unprecedented behavioral health challenges faced by our children in Illinois in recent years,” said IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra. “This trend was evident even before the advent of COVID-19 and has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has disrupted learning and relationships and increased isolation for countless children. This new program will allow providers to have more resources to address the needs of children by improving mental health education and training opportunities. It will also offer more support to pediatric primary care providers by allowing them to consult with pediatric mental health specialists virtually.”

Expanding access to pediatric mental health care in Illinois is funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) through two congressional approved programs, the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

“Expanding access to behavioral health services for children throughout Illinois is a top priority for HFS,” said HFS Director Theresa Eagleson. “Caring for our mental wellbeing is so important, which is why the Department has made significant investments in behavioral health programs this year, including increasing rates for behavioral health providers statewide to increase capacity for our clients. We are pleased that this initiative will provide additional resources for children’s behavioral health through a successful program, and we will continue to work to expand children’s access to vital mental health services.”

“At DHS, we are excited to be a partner in the state’s effort to improve mental health and wellness support for young people. It is our shared priority to ensure that every opportunity and resource to that end is maximized, and we appreciate that pediatricians and other providers are stepping up—once again—to meet the needs of Illinois’ young people said Grace B. Hou, DHS secretary.

“This partnership will significantly improve the mental wellbeing of children in Illinois,” said Dr. David Albert, Director of the DHS Division of Mental Health. “Mental health care is health care — and by providing mental health counseling to a wide range of health care providers, children who need a mental health intervention are much more likely to have their treatment needs met.”

“Early touchpoints with pediatricians are important opportunities to identify mental health needs and the services and supports that can address them before problems become more difficult to manage,” said Dana Weiner, PhD., director of the Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative, which is funded by was launched by Governor Pritzker in March of this year. “This effort supports the overarching goals of the Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative by equipping pediatricians with the tools and information they need to identify and escalate child mental health service needs in a timely and responsive manner. This is one of the strategies that will help us overcome the children’s mental health crisis.”

UIC’s DocAssist program is a free nationwide mental health counseling service for primary care providers who need support with the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health and drug use in children, adolescents and perinatal women. The program is administered by the UIC College of Pharmacy under an interagency agreement with the UIC Office of Medicaid Innovation and HFS. It is staffed by child psychiatrists, social workers and administrative assistants from UIC’s Department of Psychiatry and aims to help first responders diagnose and treat mental health problems in children.

“This project is an important step in addressing the adolescent mental health crisis in Illinois,” said Diane M. Misch, MD, FAPA, UIC Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Illinois DocAssist Medical Director. “The Illinois DocAssist program was created to address disparities in mental health care for at-risk populations in Illinois, and this partnership is helping improve our ability to bridge the gap between primary and specialty mental health care. We estimate that with the launch of the partnership, pediatric mental health consultations are expected to grow by more than 40%, and we expect improved outcomes for at-risk youth across race, ethnicity, gender, geographic location and socioeconomic status.”

“ICAAP is pleased to partner with IDPH, HFS and DHS to develop and expand this necessary support for pediatricians and general practitioners,” said Mary Dobbins, MD, FAAP, a past President of ICAAP. “These new investments give pediatricians, primary care physicians and others the tools they need to care for and support children, adolescents and families in their practice.”

The program will support a range of pediatric primary care providers including paediatricians, general practitioners, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. With funding from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the program can now also support school-based health care providers and emergency room providers, who are often on the front lines when children are in need.

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