Michigan hospital CEO Luanne Thomas Ewald on the 'alarming' dearth of pediatric mental healthcare

Luanne M. Thomas Ewald, CEO of Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, discusses the pediatric mental health crisis, exciting new advancements in healthcare and leadership advice she has never forgotten.

Question: What are some of the key challenges facing your facility?

LTE: Millions of children and teens have treatable mental health disorders, and more than half go untreated, often arriving in our emergency rooms in crisis. The alarming need for behavioral healthcare for pediatric patients is evident, yet there is a lack of care providers and psychiatric facilities for both outpatient and inpatient care to serve this pediatric population nationwide.

As a leader in children's healthcare, it is our job to better understand this population of children and adolescents and find long-term solutions to meet their needs. We need to look at best practices across the care continuum and community that reach children where they are — proactively and preventatively — with behavioral healthcare and resources they may need before they require more acute treatment. We also need to discuss funding these programs and training the next generation of behavioral health providers to improve access for children.

I know of pediatricians that have licensed social workers/counselors practicing within their offices to provide behavioral health assessments and resources for children and their families. This is one example of an innovative approach that considers the 'whole' child during well-child visits within their medical home. Seeing a behavioral health provider during a visit to the pediatrician or family physician can also reduce the stigma of seeking this type of treatment because it happens within a patient's medical home.

Q: What are the strategies you are implementing to ensure your facility continues to thrive?

LTE: At Children's Hospital of Michigan, we recognize the importance of bringing pediatric subspecialty care closer to home for children and their families while also providing the most advanced services for critically ill children. Since 2007, Children's Hospital of Michigan has opened 10 specialty centers throughout the southeast Michigan community, ranging from 3,000 to 100,000 square feet. These outpatient facilities have resulted in major growth and increased patient and physician satisfaction.

We also opened the state's only freestanding pediatric emergency room in Troy, Mich. We understand the busy lives of our families and want to ensure that subspecialty care is provided close to home, right in their communities.

Q: What excites you most about healthcare today and what worries you most?

LTE: New cures and life-changing care advancements for children with complex medical needs is the most exciting part of healthcare today. By way of example, selective dorsal rhizotomy is a new complex procedure we now offer that helps treat cerebral palsy by reducing abnormal input from the muscles that results in drastic improvements in tone/tightness (spasticity) in the legs. It is, literally, helping children walk who previously could not do so. Technology like 4-D brain mapping now allows neurosurgeons to perform pediatric brain surgery with more precision to treat uncontrollable seizures. Orthopedic surgeons can now use a remote control device, powered by rare earth magnets for limb-lengthening treatment, and most recently, the FDA approved medications to fight cancerous tumors in children and Hemophilia A. Seeing these critical advancements change the lives of the children and families we care for is not only the most exciting part of healthcare, but also the most inspiring.

The most worrisome part of healthcare today is the pediatric behavioral health crisis and the lack of access to pediatric health specialists. At Children's Hospital of Michigan, we have always advocated for children who cannot advocate for themselves, and I look forward to addressing these concerns on behalf of the most vulnerable among us — children.

Q: What is the best piece of leadership advice ever given to you?

LTE: The best leadership advice I received was from the late Dr. Ed Arlinghaus, dean at Xavier University's health and hospital administration program. He said to marry empathy with your personal passion and purpose when leading healthcare organizations. I've been following this advice for over 25 years.

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