Panelists Focus on Mental Health Services for Kids

Register Herald

By Wendy Holdren Register-Herald Reporter
Aug 16, 2017

LEWISBURG — During a children’s health panel discussion Tuesday, officials discussed the need for comprehensive health care, including more regular wellness visits and better access to mental health services.

Dr. Craig Boisvert, West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine Dean, shared that 97 percent of West Virginia children are insured. Many panelists agreed the positive statistic was reached through utilization of Department of Health and Human Resources programs, such as Right from the Start and Birth to Three.

While a large majority of children are insured in the Mountain State, the panelists quickly pointed out that not enough children are accessing preventive health care. Rather, they are using insurance coverage for emergency health care, as many of their parents do.

“One of the biggest problems with health care today is it’s not being used properly,” said Gayle Manchin, West Virginia Secretary of Education and the Arts. “It’s being used for people to go to the emergency room instead of scheduling appointments.”

Manchin said children must be educated at a young age about the importance of exercise, healthy eating and going to the doctor for wellness checks, not just for emergency services.

Dave Darden, with Greenbrier Resort Medical Care Clinic, said West Virginia’s population has been trained to only see physicians when they’re sick.

Jill Cochran, with Robert C. Byrd Clinic, agreed, noting many West Virginians define health in terms of illness, rather than wellness.

“They feel like they’re wasting services if they’re well,” Cochran said. “Our clinic is trying to change that mindset.”

Cindy Whitlock, with New River Health Association, said school-based health clinics are also trying to change the mindset of the state’s children.

“From a kid’s perspective, if the only time I go to the doctor is when I’m sick, or when I’m getting a sports physical, they’ll take that mindset into adulthood. The broader we can give children experience in that realm, the better experience they’re going to have.”

Dr. Maple Landvoigt, a pediatric pulmonologist in Lewisburg, said he’s seen dozens of children who suffer from asthma who are missing up to 60 days of school for a easily manageable condition.

“Some families don’t come back for routine follow-ups because they can’t afford a $10 co-pay.”

Many other panelists, too, cited high co-pay and deductible costs for those who have private insurance as a reason families aren’t accessing care for their children.

Patty McGrew, Director WV Adolescent Health Initiative, noted that parents may still be eligible for a sliding scale fee, based on income, at Federally Qualified Health Centers.

Manchin said mental health, both in school-based health clinics and elsewhere, must be addressed.

“Children facing trauma in their home… that can truly affect how they’re able to learn and achieve.”

One panelist said school-based health clinics offering mental health services can be ideal, as the children can access services without having to miss a full day of school. In some areas, families are 45 minutes or more away from mental health service providers.

Whitlock said the number of students receiving such services through New River is increasing. A few years ago, a few hundred students were receiving services. Two years ago, the number was up to 1,600, and last year, 3,200 students received services.

John Kennedy with the West Virginia Primary Care Association said as many as one in five children suffers from mental health issues, which if left untreated can follow them into adulthood and potentially lead to self-medication with substances.

“The basic building block of our communities is our children,” Kennedy said. “If we’re going to move forward as a state, we have to focus on child mental health.”

A report will soon be released with recommendations to improve access to care for children in West Virginia.

“We intend for this collaborative event to generate innovative policy ideas to address problems to getting kids into care,” said Kelli Caseman, West Virginians for Affordable Health Care’s Director of Children’s Health.

“Together, we can rise to the challenge to improving health care for kids. This roundtable will play an integral part in informing recommendations for the upcoming legislative session.”

The panel was hosted by the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and sponsored by West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

Email: wholdren@register-herald.comand follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren