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Donor-funded Pediatric Behavioral Health Program Sees Advancement Through State

November 02, 2022
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The situations are often dire when children experiencing behavioral health issues arrive to the Sadowsky Family Pediatric Emergency Department at Baystate Children’s Hospital. Though the emergency department cannot always meet the specific needs of this patient population, the team takes these patients in to support them the best way they can. These children need a space to remain calm, feel safe and ensure they are not a danger to themselves or others.

The daily headlines are a constant reminder that our communities are not immune to the wave of behavioral health issues in children being seen across the United States. In fact, the CDC reported that from March to October 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits increased by 24 percent among children ages 5-11 and 31 percent among those 12-17 years old. These children and teens are experiencing health conditions like depression, anxiety, and disorders related to behavioral and impulse control, trauma and stress, and eating disorders.

In recent years, Baystate Medical Center’s Sadowsky Family Pediatric Emergency Department has been a safety net for children who need mental health care. Serving as a holding facility between a behavioral health incident and the time a child can be placed in an appropriate hospital setting, the pediatric emergency department found that children were often waiting weeks, and sometimes longer, to gain access to the care they need. In order to help remedy this, Dr. Joeli Hettler, chief of the Sadowsky Family Pediatric Emergency Department, and Jenny Cox, behavioral health program director, looked into Youth Villages, a community-based organization that provides in-home therapy to children who struggle with behavioral health challenges. They have an intensive program, called Intercept, which helps kids who may otherwise need residential or hospital placement, remain in their homes to receive treatment with their families participating.

Dr. Hettler and Jenny decided to pilot the program with four spots, but they required funding to get things up and running. Seeing a need for its community, Professional Drywall Construction generously supported this effort with a donation of $35,000 to Baystate Health Foundation.

The Sadowsky Family Pediatric Emergency Department team made its first referral to the program in September 2021. A clinician from Intercept assessed the child and family and, because the patient was a good fit for the program, they began providing behavioral health treatment in the child’s home. In a two-month span, they filled their four openings and were thrilled with the success of the program, as none of these children returned to the pediatric emergency department for behavioral health issues.

“We started this pilot knowing we had a finite amount of money from the donation we received and that we could not fund it in perpetuity, so our next step after we knew it was viable and working was to help ensure our young patients had access to this care long term,” shared Jenny.

Dr. Hettler and Jenny presented these findings to the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health team who found the results encouraging and agreed to take over the program as a funding source and offer it to Baystate Health pediatric patients on an ongoing basis. In addition to taking on the cost, they added five additional spots to Baystate’s allotment.

“Behavioral health is a critical, yet chronically underfunded community resource. Without the help of this donation, we would never have been able to launch this stable, sustainable program and find long term funding for it through the state,” said Jenny. “Youth Villages is providing life-changing services to the children in the Intercept program every day.”

Creating innovation that improves the lives of our patients is important to the advancement of healthcare in our community. Donors like Professional Drywall Construction help make this happen.

“We often feel helpless and ill-equipped to deal with the increasing number of behavioral health challenges. There are many others in the community trying to help, but because the Sadowsky Family Emergency Department is at times the last resort for pediatric behavioral health cases in our region, we are often navigating the most acute and difficult situations,” shared Dr. Hettler. “Donor support reminds us that we are not alone in this and helps provide the resources to create more individualized options of care for the children we serve."