Community Health Center Introduces Pediatric Tele-health Program Linking Providers at School-Based Health Centers with Specialists

MIDDLETOWN, Conn; March 3, 2015: Community Health Center, Inc. (CHC) has launched a tele-health program focused on pediatric and adolescent behavioral health – this will be the newest Project ECHO program in a series of successful interventions offered through CHC’s Weitzman Institute - which will provide expert, multidisciplinary behavioral health feedback to clinicians providing care to pediatric and adolescent patients at CHC’s primary care and school-based health centers. Project ECHO, which stands for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, is a recurring teleconference that joins primary care providers and specialists to discuss challenging cases in a particular subject area.

This newest Project ECHO at CHC will focus on specific conditions such as ADHD, trauma, anxiety, and depression. There is a critical need for increased access to behavioral health care for children and adolescents in Connecticut and nationwide. An article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry states that 75-80 percent of children and youth are not receiving needed mental health services. According to the Child Health and Development Institute (CHDI), 160,000 children and adolescents in the state of Connecticut are in need of mental health services. Project ECHO improves access to such services by strengthening the ability of front line clinicians to manage complex issues. Though recurring ECHO sessions these clinicians receive expert advice along with updates on the latest evidence-based approaches to care for their patients.

The recently released report by Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Commission outlines several recommendations for improvements, with one specifically pertaining to existing models of care. The report identifies deficiencies in both the public and private systems of care and calls for increased integration to make effective, clinically indicated services and evidence-based community programs available to children and adults regardless of economic status. Other key shortcomings identified by the Commission include inadequate identification of behavioral health problems early in children‘s development, workforce deficits – encompassing insufficient numbers of providers qualified to address the behavioral health care needs of children and young adults and inadequate training in evidence-based evaluation methods and treatments for the existing provider community – and pervasive system fragmentation.

“CHC is proud to be the largest provider of school-based health services in the state. These centers are a critical part of our work, because they allow us to reach more children and adolescents and ensure access to the highest quality of care during their formative years,” said Mark Masselli, president and CEO of CHC. “We have been working with local school boards across the state for 20 years now to develop school health services consistent with their missions. This integration of our nationally recognized Project ECHO program will help us better identify and address behavioral health issues before they become a real problem.”

The expert faculty for this program includes Yale University trained, Timothy Kearney, Ph.D., CHC’s Chief Behavioral Health Officer, and Robert Dudley, MD, a Pediatrician at CHC’s New Britain location.  Dr. Kearny, who joined CHC in 1988, earned his PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary and completed the post graduate Primary Care Behavioral Health training program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is the author of Caring for Sexually Abused Children: A Handbook for Families and Churches. Dr. Dudley, completed his doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He joined CHC’s clinical staff in 1996, and has also served as the Assistant Attending Pediatrician at New Britain Hospital since that time.

CHC’s School-based Health Centers (SBHCs) provide care for more than 8,000 students annually, in approximately 49 schools across Connecticut. Behavioral health care is provided at all 49 sites, which offer individual, family and group counseling, crisis intervention, and for complex and special cases, referrals for specialty psychiatric care. Project ECHO Pediatric and Adolescent Behavioral Health will ultimately enhance collaboration among medical and behavioral health providers treating mental health conditions in children. Behavioral health providers from CHC’s locations across the state will be invited to participate in this twice- monthly program to present challenging patient cases. Treatment advice and education will be provided by an expert multidisciplinary faculty team comprised of senior staff from CHCI’s behavioral health team, school based team, and from the University of Connecticut.

This latest initiative joins a growing list of Project ECHO tele-health interventions hosted by CHC Including ECHO clinics for Chronic Pain, Hepatitis C/HIV, Buprenorphine Maintenance Therapy for Opioid Addiction and Healthcare Quality Improvement. CHC’s project ECHO sessions now reach over 300 providers across the US in eight states.

CHC is the first community health centers in the nation to implement the ECHO model, which was initially developed by the University of New Mexico to extend Hepatitis C care and management to the rural clinics. CHC is preparing to launch its next ECHO program focused on improving primary care health outcomes for LGBT patients at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) throughout the United States.