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Psychiatric Care for Kids Lacking; Telemedicine Helping Out

Joyce Russell/IPR
Statehouse committee hearing testimony on children's mental health

State lawmakers heard preliminary plans for a new statewide system for childhood mental health care Wednesday.  Advocates say currently there is no organized way to deliver care to kids to match the statewide program for adult mental health.   

A Department of Human Services working group studied the issue over the summer.  They’re recommending a new state board to set standards for children’s mental health care statewide.   

There are only 36 child psychiatrists in the state. -Rep. Lisa Heddons

Kim Venner directs the behavioral health agency Tanner Place in Cedar Rapids.  She said crisis care for kids is especially hard to come by.  And children are on waiting lists due to a shortage of child psychiatrists.

Venner said children are being prescribed psychotropic drugs, but a psychiatrist is not always managing the case.

“So what’s happening is the primary care doctor is trying to do the best they can?” asked Sen. Mark Costello (R-Imogen). 

“Right, so the child does not have medication management so you have a child on complex medication not getting that help,” replied Venner.

The telepsychiatry program at the University of Iowa is helping to address the need, offering psychiatric care through telemedicine to children across the state.

She said children are surprisingly adaptable to the alternative care.

Our children are suffering. -Teresa Bomhoff, NAMI

“We do know kids are more comfortable with having screen time so they're used to that,” Pike said.  “For certain diagnosis such as anxiety or autism having that distance sometimes makes them more comfortable in  being able to participate in psychiatric care.

“It is one way to reach a lot of families in need,” Pike added.   “It doesn’t give us more psychiatrists.”  

“There are only 36 child psychiatrists in the state,” added Rep. Lisa Heddons (D-Ames).

Advocates hope a pilot program for crisis care for kids gets extended next year.   

“We have been told by some legislators they don't believe children have mental illnesses,” said Teresa Bomhoff with NAMI of Greater Des Moines.  “Our children are suffering.”

Bomhoff called for a sales tax increase to fund mental health services for children.