CHOC opens psychiatric access line to help kids with mental health issues

From The Orange County Register

By Deepa Bharath,, Orange County Register

In its ongoing efforts to improve mental health care for children and adolescents, Children’s Hospital of Orange County has started a pediatric psychiatric access line, the first of its kind in the county.

This line, which is initially answered by a social worker, connects pediatricians treating children with mental illnesses with board-certified psychiatrists in about an hour, said Heather Huszti, pediatric psychologist at CHOC. The program has been funded with a $200,000 grant from the James M. Cox Foundation and Cox Communications.

In April, CHOC opened an 18-bed $13.2-million mental health in-patient facility to serve children ages 3 to 18.

There is a huge need for this link between pediatricians and psychiatrists because there are only about a dozen psychiatrists in Orange County specializing in care for children and adolescents — a number that is below state average, Huszti said.

This puts a squeeze on parents who are waiting to get treatment for their children, she said.

“When parents have mental health or behavioral issues concerning their children, they go their pediatricians or teachers first and neither of those groups have much training in pediatric mental health,” Huszti said. “So, with this access line, pediatricians can get children started on medication or start treatment while they’re waiting to see a psychiatrist.”

In addition to the traditional phone line, telehealth visits using HIPAA- compliant software will be incorporated allowing virtual consultation, assessment and acute diagnoses from a CHOC psychiatrist.

This model, which has worked well in states like Massachusetts, has the potential to change children’s lives, she said.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children and adolescents,” Huszti said. “By increasing access, we can hopefully stop conditions before they progress to the point of suicide and change the course of that child’s life.”