3 system execs on addressing kids' mental health during pandemic

The pandemic accelerated trends toward virtual care, digital transformation and innovation in 2020. Pediatric health care is no exception.

At the Becker's Healthcare CEO + CFO Virtual Event, a panel of healthcare executives gathered to discuss innovations in pediatric healthcare. The Nov. 11 panel comprised:

· Nathaniel Beers, MD, president of HSC Health Care System in Washington, D.C.
· Todd Suntrapak, president and CEO of Valley Children's Health Care in Madera, Calif.
· Kathy Gorman, executive vice president and COO of Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The panelists touched on maintaining an innovative culture and the big challenges and best ideas for growth. Click here to view the panel session on-demand.

Here is an excerpt of the discussion. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you're facing as a leader and how are you solving them?

Todd Suntrapak: The greatest concern I have right now is around mental and behavioral health issues for kids that are not able to be in school in person, to a large degree not able to engage with their friends. In talking to colleagues across the country, we see the effect of the pandemic as an uptick in nonaccidental trauma or child abuse. But even to a less severe outcome, I'm very worried about what's happening with our kids emotionally through this time. It's not the same to sit in front of a screen. All of us learn differently. That's well-established.

Being so visually based is difficult for kids, and we hear more and more about their frustrations. They don't feel like they're learning as they would if they're in the classroom. That's just the educational part. When you marry that to the experience that a child has today, with the possible inability to visit their grandparents or their aunts and uncles and cousins and their extended family, [they have] a very narrow existence right now in my opinion. I'm most concerned about how we as an organization can help educators do what they are trying to do in a way that is additive, such as develop tool kits for them. How we can create additional resources for families to talk about these things and additional resources for kids. Unfortunately, I think this is not going to be over in a few months or even six months.

Kathy Gorman: Todd, thank you so much for raising this critical issue because it is on the forefront of everyone's mind, and you stated it so well. We are worried about the mental health of our children and the long-term sequelae of what the pandemic is going to bring; we don't know. Nobody knows. Nathaniel and I have both been partnering in many ways in this space, within our organization, around advancing mental health services available for our children. One of the ways we've done that is to advance our telehealth services. The majority of our psychiatric visits right now, and psychology visits are on telehealth, just as in many pediatric hospitals across the country. That is one way of reaching most children, but not every child has the ability to have a computer or to have an iPad or a smartphone in their hand because they may be socioeconomically disadvantaged or come from a very vulnerable population.

Dr. Nathaniel Beers: During this pandemic, our kids have been suffering greatly. I think that it has required a lot of innovation to provide the telehealth services. We've been talking about telehealth for probably close to two decades now in some way, shape or form. But the speed of adoption certainly has been much more rapid in the last 12 months than it probably was in the last 12 years. We've got a real opportunity to think and learn about how we provide that care to reimagine how we are going to be able to support our kids with our most complex needs who are seeing multiple subspecialists in their lives. I do think that we have, as Kathy noted earlier, been uniquely positioned to engage in this space because of the fact that Children's National does have the school nurses and provides school nursing services during the normal year, as well as expertise in developmental pediatrics and complex care needs.

The pandemic did afford us the opportunity to push forward and support both the city and school systems in thinking about reentry. We've done consultative work with school systems to help them develop their plans as well as webinars for our broader community of teachers and principals and parents and families. We also had webinars that were specifically focused for youth in our community to make sure that there was space for them to ask their questions and to hear from other adolescents and to be able to create some conversation. I do think that what we know is that this is not going to be sort of over quickly, and we know that we're also going to need to continue to support the broader health beyond just physical health of all of the children and adolescents in the United States and around the world to make sure that they can recover from the psychological and emotional and physical aspects of this pandemic.


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