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A growing problem

After noticing that growing numbers of Southwest Florida teenagers were arriving at hospital emergency rooms sick from ingesting dangerous quantities of over-the-counter drugs or bleeding from self-inflicted cuts, the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida took action.

“As you know, our population here in Southwest Florida is growing at a fairly significant rate, especially within the pediatric and adolescent space,” says Armando Llechu, chief administrative officer at the Golisano Children’s Hospital in Fort Myers. “The demand for mental health services grows with that growth in population. And what we found is that there just wasn’t enough access to providers in order to meet that need.”

The hospital has created a pediatric behavioral health initiative that has been training pediatricians and primary care physicians to better serve young patients suffering from mental health issues.

“We never have enough providers — especially if you’re looking at psychiatrists — to be able to take care of the problem, so our next approach was: How do we get some of the simplest stuff addressed by primary care physicians?” says Dr. Emad Salman, Golisano Children’s Hospital’s medical director. “So we started with training pediatricians. We contracted with a company out of New York called Reach, which trains pediatricians to get a comfort level with depression and anxiety, and so far we have trained 43 pediatricians.”

The initiative, Salman adds, includes a public education component.

“One of the first things we tried to address is: How do we start having a conversation as a community about mental health?” he says. “Just having that conversation took awhile. It’s something we should all talk about — and really address that elephant in the room. It’s amazing how soon you realize that everybody has been touched by this at some point."