Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Aguiar-Curry proposes Children’s Mental Health Access Network

SACRAMENTO – On Wednesday, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) introduced Assembly Bill 2464, which creates and funds the establishment of a Children’s Mental Health Access Network to ensure that all California doctors and allied health professionals caring for youth have access to specialty mental health care services, regardless of their location.

Many children and adolescents’ mental health needs could be effectively managed in a primary care setting, but their pediatric primary care providers currently lack the specialized training and resources they need.

This bill utilizes existing health technology and collaboration between providers to solve the problem.

“Too many of our children are in crisis, and the lack of trained mental health professionals is an enormous contributor,” said Aguiar-Curry. “We must continue efforts to recruit and train new specialty mental health professionals, but we must also act now to connect children’s primary care providers with mental health experts. By using telehealth and provider-to-provider consultation, we can make children’s mental health services accessible throughout California today.”

Specifically, AB 2464 creates a competitive grant program to identify ten children’s hospitals and community-based mental health providers to serve as telehealth “hubs” of expertise for their region.

These centers of expertise would leverage telehealth and tele-consult technology to connect primary care providers with pediatric mental health specialists to help them manage children’s mental health needs in a primary care setting when possible, and to provide direct services when a higher level of care is required but unavailable in the community.

The bill would prioritize working with community providers that predominantly serve low-income, rural, and underserved populations.

Once established, these regional hubs would be sustained by reimbursements from both public and commercial payers for telehealth consultations and clinical services.

This is possible because of the telehealth reimbursement law that Aguiar-Curry authored and the Governor signed last year in her bill, AB 744. These services may also be eligible for federal matching funds when provided to Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

Ann-Louise Kuhns, President and CEO of the California Children’s Hospital Association, added: “We thank Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry for bringing forward this common-sense solution that will increase access to mental health services for children throughout the state, and provide valuable resources and support to pediatricians and other primary care providers who are on the frontline of the state’s mental health crisis.”

Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and three-quarters begin by age 24. In fact, as many as 1.8 million California children may be living with a mental health diagnosis, and our current system for serving children struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions is insufficient.

By strategically expanding the use of telemedicine and tele-consults, our state’s pediatricians and mental health experts can collaborate to deliver direct care to patients who currently lack access.

According to Aguiar-Curry, “We must admit and address our failure to step up and bring mental health resources to our children. Ignoring the critical situation will damn this generation of young people to mental health conditions that can lead to lifelong challenges, increased mortality, joblessness, homelessness, and enormous long-term state costs. If we act to create a statewide provider network today, we can bring the benefits of mental health care to children and their families. It is the right thing to do to make care accessible so every child can realize their potential, and furthermore, it’s also the responsible thing to do.”

AB 2464 brings together the existing health and technology resources in our state to make access to mental health care for children and adolescents a reality, regardless of where a child and their family lives.

Aguiar-Curry represents the 4th Assembly District, which includes all of Lake and Napa Counties, parts of Colusa, Solano and Sonoma counties, and all of Yolo County except West Sacramento.

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