Children’s Hospitals in Texas want $300 million to improve access to mental health care

AUSTIN, Texas (KCBD) — When their names were called in front of the Texas House of Representatives and Senate on Wednesday morning, the faces of Bill and Abby Andrews lit up from the galleries.

The two girls being treated for Niemann-Pick disease at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin wave to applause from pediatricians, health care advocates and state lawmakers as their treatment journey is shared to call for more investment in children’s health and mental health. Health care at the state level.

Niemann-Pick disease, informally referred to as “childhood Alzheimer’s disease,” is just one of several complex conditions that pediatricians across Texas treat.

“Belle and Abby,” said Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin), “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 healthcare for all children by working through your healthcare needs will greatly expand.”

(L to R) Abby, Pam, Bill and Chris Andrews, a family from Austin, at the show...
(L to R) Abby, Pam, Bill and Chris Andrews, a family from Austin, on the exhibit in the Texas House of Representatives. Abby and Bill are being treated for Niemann-Pick disease at Dell Medical Center in Austin.(Texas legislature)

More than a dozen state legislators called and praised the outstanding, lifesaving care provided by Texas Children’s Hospitals each day under the dome, celebrating the inaugural “Children’s Hospital Day” in partnership with the Texas Children’s Hospital Association.

This advocacy group, made up of eight hospitals across Texas, including Covenant Children’s in Lubbock, briefed lawmakers on the difficulties facing pediatrics in the wake of COVID-19 and ahead of the 2024-25 biennium.

In a lunchtime presentation Wednesday, its members targeted three areas for improving child care: a statewide long-term mental health care plan, increased funding for access to mental health services, and funding for Medicaid.

Suicide was the second leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 14 in 2022, According to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionAnd JAMA showed that diagnoses of anxiety and depression rose nearly 30 percent between 2016 and 2020; This is leading pediatricians to advocate for more “continuity of cohesive care” for children facing severe mental health issues, according to CHAT legislative briefing materials.

“Currently there is no data necessary to support the number and types of inpatient child mental health beds required in the state,” the CHAT bulletin reads. This analysis is vital for estimating the need over the next ten years. Understanding the number, types, and locations of services required across the state will allow for appropriate planning and development to meet needs in the near and long term.”

As introduced last week, both first drafts of the state budget include language that funds this study from the Health and Human Services Committee.

In addition to this study and the long-term plan, the association calls for the allocation of 300 million dollars for hospital infrastructure projects that would provide more treatment capacities, allowing them to diagnose, treat and stabilize more children in crises. This money could also go to suicide prevention and multiple “step down” programs, which help calm 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 of children in Texas and more than three out of four Medicaid cases across the state. With that in mind, CHAT warns lawmakers against 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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