Mercy Health said it’s seeing progress in an effort to bring more access to kids in need of mental health care over the past year. The provider said mental health care remains one of the areas with a shortage of specialists and Northwest Arkansas is no exception.
Mercy said too many counties across the state don’t have an adequate number of psychiatrists or psychologists to respond if a child is in need of mental help, which prompted Mercy to step up efforts to meet kids where they were.
“We knew we needed to expand the number of doctors who feel they’re able to competently diagnose kids with mental illness and get them started right away on a treatment plan,” said Dr. Kyle John, Mercy pediatric psychiatrist. “Most pediatricians and family medicine doctors only spend a day in medical school focusing on mental health, so we set out to provide them with the additional tools they needed.”
Mercy worked with Dr. John on establishing a virtual program to create a training opportunity called “vMentalWellness Kids.” The “v” stands for “virtual.” This program allowed Mercy pediatricians and sub specialists as well as family doctors to receive training to strengthen their skills on diagnosing the more common mental issues in children: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).
Mercy said in the past year more than 1,200 patients have benefited from the program. Nearly 250 Mercy caregivers across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma have been trained including more than two dozen in Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith.
Dr. Susan Sullivan, a pediatrician at Mercy Clinic Pediatrics – Highway 102 in Bentonville, said that before the virtual consult became available, patients often waited months for a definitive diagnosis and plan of treatment.
“After seeing a dramatic increase not only in mental health concerns in our clinic but also in life-threatening suicide attempts in the hospital, we knew something had to change,” Sullivan said. “By offering easier, faster and quality access to experts in mental health, we hope to continue to keep our patients physically and mentally well.”
Sullivan said the Mercy Virtual team is always on standby to consult with local Mercy providers and they can review patient records and medical history as well as see prescribed medications electronically. There is even a secure video system available to visually access symptoms in extreme cases.
“I have loved having access to a team of mental health professionals to offer guidance in some more difficult cases,” said Dr. Cassie Dyer, a pediatrician at Mercy Clinic Pediatrics – Highway 102, Bentonville. “They are able to provide more specialized help very quickly. I feel much more confident in providing mental health care with the Mercy Kids Behavioral Health virtual team just a few clicks away.”
According to Mental Health America, rates of severe depression in children continue to increase significantly, while more than 1.7 million kids who’ve had major depressive episodes have not received treatment.