February 25, 2024
Making Space

Photo: Wolfson Children's Hospital

Wolfson Children’s Hospital is adding a 20-bed behavioral health and wellness unit to meet the need for more pediatric mental health care in Florida.

Economic Backbone: Pediatrics

Making Space

Wolfson Children's Hospital is adding beds to address gaps in mental health care.

Vanessa Caceres | 8/8/2023

With the need for pediatric mental health care skyrocketing in Florida and the U.S., Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, which is part of Baptist Health, plans to add a 20-bed behavioral health and wellness unit slated for completion next spring.

The 20 beds are in addition to the current 14-bed Larry J. Freeman Behavioral Health Unit and an eight-bed behavioral health pod in the hospital’s emergency department.

The addition is made possible with a $3-million donation made by the Players Championship Village and a $5-million appropriation from the state.

The need for expanded mental health care for children and teens began before the COVID pandemic, although the crisis exacerbated it, says Terrie Andrews, vice president of Baptist Behavioral Health. Social media as well as isolation and loneliness have all contributed to rising mental health threats that include suicide ideation, severe depression and psychosis.

Currently, there are only 65 pediatric inpatient behavioral beds between Daytona Beach and Fernandina Beach, says Michael Mayo, president of Baptist Health. “Unfortunately, due to low Medicaid reimbursement,” many providers do not have the resources to invest in inpatient pediatric behavioral health beds.

Pediatric emergency visits related to mental health are slated to increase 9% across the U.S. in the next five years, says Allegra C. Jaros, president of Wolfson. Inpatient stays are expected to grow by 11%.

About 95% of pediatric patients coming to Wolfson’s emergency department with a behavioral health crisis are there voluntarily, which shows the large number of parents and guardians who are identifying mental health issues in their children and seeking help for them, Andrews says.

One major goal at Wolfson is to offer mental health care services that are preventive and help avoid crises, Jaros says.

In addition to more beds, Wolfson also uses a collaborative care model which connects pediatric mental health specialists with pediatricians and patients to provide guidance on care and medications more rapidly, Andrews says. Although the collaborative care model is not currently reimbursed by Medicaid in Florida, Andrews is hopeful that this may change soon.

Wolfson also participates in a national program called On Our Sleeves that provides parents and teachers with resources to have open conversations about mental health issues. 

Tags: Healthcare, Pediatrics, Feature

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