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Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital fights ‘national mental health emergency’ with behavioral health in primary care

pediatric mental health

Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital (YNHCH) is training hospital-affiliated and community pediatricians on behavioral health management to help address what the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a child and adolescent mental health “national emergency.”  

By partnering with The REACH Institute, an organization dedicated to bringing scientifically proven mental health care to families, YNHCH is meeting families where they are most comfortable and aiming to reduce unnecessary hospitalizations. 

“Pediatricians have been seeing this crisis unfold and feeling ill equipped,” said Maryellen Flaherty-Hewitt, MD, FAAP, Interim Section Chief, General Pediatrics, Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, who helped develop the program.  “By gaining new skills we can support families in an acute crisis or even prevent one from happening.”

The program, which involves online learning and best practice sharing with providers across the country trains pediatricians to:

  • Detect issues early
  • Offer first line treatment
  • Collaborate with mental health specialists
  • Maximize the use of community resources

Recent graduates include 28 pediatricians spanning Connecticut’s shoreline from Fairfield County to Old Saybrook.

“By integrating behavioral health into primary care we are recognizing the connectivity between mind, body and brain,” said Linda Mayes MD, director of the Yale Child Study Center instrumental in bringing this program to the community. “This is a necessary step to destigmatize mental health and create the continuum of healthcare our families deserve.”

Across the country there are long waitlists for child and adolescent mental health providers and treatment centers. Many of these children have depression, anxiety or other behavioral health needs that land them in hospital emergency departments, also short on beds. 

“This is an opportunity to learn more and do more for our patients,” said Katelyn Cusmano MD, Pediatric and Medical Associates, who participated in the first cohort. “Having been in residency for part of the pandemic and in primary care for the past year, I saw children in the emergency room waiting for mental health support and how some of these challenges could be addressed earlier in primary care when pediatricians are able to bridge to mental health professionals.” 

YNHCH plans to enhance capacity for behavioral health in primary care by bringing this training to more practices in the New Haven area.