Access to mental health services just got easier.
At least for a segment of our population and on a trial basis.
The Partnership Access Line (PAL) Plus provides an access channel to mental and behavioral health treatment for low-income children in Benton and Franklin counties.
The program is a pilot spun from one at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The original PAL program is a telephone-based consultation system for primary care doctors in Washington and Wyoming. The program was developed with the help of a pediatrician who became a child psychiatrist after finding difficulty accessing mental and behavioral health care for his young patients.
That program’s success led to the evolution of the new one being tested here, which includes in-person counseling as well as additional support services.
“I’m hopeful we have a chance to help some kids who wouldn’t get help otherwise,” said Dr. Robert Hilt, the program’s director.
Children ages 5 to 18 in the two counties who are on state insurance, have been diagnosed with mild to moderate depression or disruptive behavior, and aren’t already receiving mental health services are eligible. It’s a small but critical population. A recent report found that nearly half of the children in Washington in need of mental health services did not receive them.
The child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor will connect the patient with the program. The intent is to “equip primary care providers with an evidence-supported system of mental and behavioral care that provides rapidly accessed direct mental health support for their patents exhibiting either signs of depression or significant disruptive behavior.”
The child would be connected with a local therapist who in turn will be supported by psychiatrists and psychologists at Seattle Children’s and the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Local partners providing screening and therapy services are Lourdes Counseling Center and Catholic Family & Child Service.
Primary care providers are usually the first stop for families seeking help for their children. Those doctors located in rural areas have the most difficult time accessing mental health services for their young patients.
This program is just the type of model we need in our community. It allows local doctors to find help beyond their medical offices for their patients. It is supported locally and by experts in our state in child mental and behavioral health. The goal is to help these children before issues become entrenched.
If we can address the behavior while they are young, we may have fewer adults with mental and behavioral issues down the road.
The next goal should be to create a program like this for all in our community, regardless of income, age and other factors. Mental illness does not discriminate.
For more information, go to www.seattlechildrens.org and enter PAL Plus in the search field.