America’s Surgeon General warns America’s youth are facing a ‘devastating’ mental health crisis. The American Academy of Pediatrics calls it “a national mental health emergency for children.” And obstetricians/gynecologists and other primary care providers are seeing increased anxiety and depression in their pregnant and postpartum patients.
“This country has long suffered from a critical shortage of mental health professionals and has failed to adequately support mental health treatment,” says David L. Kaye, professor of psychiatry at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical. UB Sciences and child psychiatrist at UBMD Psychiatry. . “The pandemic has only made things worse.”
While primary care providers see children and new parents for routine care, they typically receive minimal training to meet patients’ mental health needs. Understandably, Kaye notes, this makes many of them reluctant to work with their patients on these issues.
“But families trust their pediatricians and family physicians,” he adds, “so it makes sense to try to give those providers the skills they need to successfully treat behavioral issues.” faced by the patients in their care”.
This is happening in New York State. The Office of Mental Health awarded a five-year, $16.8 million grant to UBMD Psychiatry to continue and expand a statewide program called Project TEACH (Training and Education for the Advancement children’s health).
“Paediatricians and family physicians are often the first place families go to seek help or information if they have concerns about the emotional or behavioral health of their children,” says OMH Commissioner Ann Sullivan. The TEACH Project connects pediatric primary care providers with psychiatrists and other behavioral health care experts for consultations, referrals to services, and education and training on social and children’s emotions. Our new contract with UBMD Psychiatry will help expand the services provided through Project TEACH and help more children and families with any mental health issues they may have.
The UBMD team is a collaboration led by UB psychiatrists and including faculty psychiatrists from the University of Rochester; Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute; SUNY Upstate; Zucker School of Medicine/Northwell Health; Albany Medical Center; and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Since its inception in 2010, Project TEACH has provided consultation support to more than 23,000 pediatric patients across New York State. Over 4,400 primary care providers have enrolled in the program, a number that continues to grow at an annual average of 15%.
TEACH Project services are based on the principle that access to behavioral health care is essential to achieving quality health care outcomes. “Paediatricians, family physicians, and obstetricians and gynecologists play critical roles in identifying and treating behavioral health issues in their patients,” says Kaye, who is also executive director of the TEACH project.
“Increasingly, we are seeing major groups of physicians embracing the mental health agenda. This program extends mental health services to a much larger population that has significant mental health needs.
With the new funding, the program will expand and strengthen consultation, training and support services for obstetricians/gynecologists, family physicians and other primary care providers who work with pregnant and postpartum patients. Therefore, the expansion of the TEACH project will also help address maternal depression and other perinatal mental health disorders.
“The main target of our program is primary care providers and obstetricians/gynecologists,” Kaye explains. “Our goal is to support, train and provide consultation to primary care providers so that they improve their skills and confidence in caring for these patients.”
The pandemic has turned the shortage of mental health care providers into “a national crisis, and it’s hit children and new mothers especially hard,” notes Allison Brashear, vice president of health sciences at UB and dean from the Jacobs School. “The TEACH Project brings mental health treatment to these vulnerable populations in every corner of New York State by building the skills of healthcare professionals these patients already know and trust.”
All TEACH Project services are provided free of charge to providers or patients. Primary care providers and OB-GYNs get immediate phone access to psychiatrists and mental health professionals who respond to real-time inquiries, 9-5 Monday-Friday, providing information about medications, therapy, referrals and local resources.
Kaye says they consider the consultations “curbside style” because they’re designed to give providers immediate, real-time education and support.
A crucial element of the program is the availability of free, live, virtual Continuing Medical Education (CME) programs that work in synergy with telephone support. Educational programs use adult learning principles and seasoned teachers from across the state to deliver the highest quality educational programs for primary care providers. Many of these CME programs are available online at the TEACH Project website.
And that makes a difference. “The Project TEACH program has been nothing short of transformative,” says Marc Lashley, pediatrician at Northwell Health in Valley Stream. “It has had a huge impact on my pediatric practice and my ability to treat children and adolescents with mental health issues. I now feel comfortable and confident diagnosing and treating most mental health issues in my patients and can recognize immediately when a referral to a psychiatrist is needed.
“I can have a qualified, trusted child psychiatrist on the phone immediately, during business hours, to discuss a case,” he says.
Diane E. Bloomfield, medical director of the Family Care Center at Montefiore General Pediatrics in the Bronx, agrees. “Especially in this time of limited mental health resources, the support of the TEACH Project is a gift, as it allows me to have the ability to provide assessment and begin treatment for a mental health issue for a child who is a member of my practice.”
Colleen Mattimore, a pediatrician at Medical Health Associates of Western New York in Orchard Park, calls the training and ongoing collaborative support of the TEACH Project psychiatric team “a game-changer, especially with the impact that COVID-19 has had. on our young people. Paediatricians know their patients; they’ve seen them grow. Families trust them, and that relationship is so important in mental health treatment,” says Mattimore. “The TEACH project allowed us to maintain the medical home care.
The TEACH Project continues to grow through close collaboration with the New York State Department of Health, as well as state chapters of national organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.