Texas

Texas children’s hospitals want $300 million to increase access to mental health care

AUSTIN, Texas (KCBD) — Belle and Abby Andrews’ faces lit up from the galleries as their names were called from the front of the Texas House and Senate chambers Wednesday morning.

The two girls, who are being treated for Niemann-Pick disease at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, waved to applause from pediatricians, health advocates and state legislators as their treatment journey was shared to call for continued investment in children’s health and minds nationwide healthcare.

Niemann-Pick disease, informally known as “Childhood Alzheimer’s,” is one of the many complex cases treated by pediatricians across Texas.

“Belle and Abby,” Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) said during a resolution discussion, “thank you for your courage and strength. You are planting trees for future generations that none of us will ever see, but your commitment to the health care of all children by addressing their health needs will increase exponentially.”

(left to right) Abby, Pam, Belle and Chris Andrews, a family from Austin, in the gallery...
(left to right) Abby, Pam, Belle and Chris Andrews, an Austin family, in the gallery of the Texas House of Representatives. Abby and Belle are being treated for Niemann-Pick disease at Dell Medical Center in Austin.(Texas legislature)

Endorsing and praising the excellence and life-saving care that Children’s Hospitals of Texas provide under the dome each day, more than a dozen state legislators celebrated the first Children’s Hospital Day in partnership with the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas.

This advocacy group, made up of eight hospitals across Texas, including the Covenant Children’s in Lubbock, briefed lawmakers on the struggles facing pediatric medicine in the wake of COVID-19 and ahead of the 2024-25 biennium.

In a lunchtime presentation Wednesday, its members targeted three areas of improvement for pediatric care: a long-term statewide mental health plan, increased funding for access to mental health services, and Medicaid funding.

Suicide was the second leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 14 in 2022, according to the CDC, and JAMA shows diagnoses of anxiety and depression increased nearly 30 percent between 2016 and 2020; This is leading paediatricians to call for a “more coherent continuum of care” for children facing serious mental health problems, according to CHAT’s legislative briefing materials.

“Currently, there is no data to support the number and type of inpatient mental health cribs needed in the state,” a CHAT flyer said. “This analysis is critical to estimating that need over the next 10 years. Understanding the number, types, and locations of services needed across the state will allow for appropriate planning and development to meet needs in both the short and long term.”

As filed last week, both initial draft state budgets contain language that would fund this study from the Health and Human Services Commission.

Along with this study and long-term plan, the association is requesting $300 million for hospital infrastructure projects that would provide more treatment capacity and allow them to diagnose, treat and stabilize more children in crisis. That money could also go toward suicide prevention programs and several “step-down” programs that help make mental health recovery easier for children.

More than four million children are enrolled in Medicaid or the state’s children’s health insurance program, accounting for more than half of the children in Texas and more than three out of four Medicaid cases statewide. With this in mind, CHAT warns lawmakers against making changes to Medicaid rates or adding loopholes, claiming it could make it harder for facilities to qualify for federal loopholes.

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