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Virginia unveils statewide program to increase access to mental health services

Virginia Mental Health Access Program
Virginia Mental Health Access Program(Virginia Mental Health Access Program)
Published: May. 19, 2021 at 3:58 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ/VMAP Release) - Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Dr. Daniel Carey, Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, have unveiled a statewide initiative designed to enhance access to mental health services among the commonwealth’s children and young adults.

Under development since 2018, the Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP) is a four-tiered initiative designed to help health care providers take better care of children, teens and young adults with mental health conditions. Administered by the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, the Virginia Department of Health and numerous other partners, VMAP is a statewide initiative that provides education to primary care providers on managing pediatric mental health; increases their access to child psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers; and assists their patient families with navigating the availability of additional mental health resources.

“Virginia ranks 41st in the nation for our mental health workforce, which is unacceptable,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, MD, MHCM. “The Virginia Mental Health Access Program – more than three years in the making with partners and resources in place throughout the commonwealth – is a significant step forward in helping Virginia’s families access the kind of mental health care they need for their children.”

Secretary Carey added, “Today’s official public unveiling of VMAP is particularly significant as we continue to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the commonwealth. We know, of course, that the virus has affected the physical health of hundreds of thousands of Virginians, but less visible has been the ways in which this public health emergency has influenced the mental health of Virginians. This is particularly true of children who often internalize the anxieties and stress brought about by the disruptions to their normal lives. I would encourage parents to seek help from their child’s medical provider for any mental health concerns.”

The Virginia Mental Health Access Program has four core components, according to program organizers:

  • Education. The program provides ongoing education to primary care providers (including pediatricians, family medicine physicians, NPs, and PAs) that allows these health care providers to better screen, diagnose, manage and treat their pediatric patients for a range of mental health conditions.
  • Behavioral Health Consult Access. VMAP connects primary care providers treating children and adolescents by telephone with regional VMAP hubs that are staffed with child and adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers available for consultation.
  • Care Navigation. Assistance is available that helps the patient families identify and navigate additional mental health services that are offered in their community, outside of the primary care setting when needed.
  • Telehealth. Telehealth services will be available to VMAP hubs to assist with consults later in 2021. This will allow VMAP consults to provide better support to PCPs.

“This day during Mental Health Awareness month marks an important milestone for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I am proud of the role that VMAP has played in developing this statewide response to the lack of critical mental health resources in every part of the state,” said Sandy L. Chung, M.D., medical director of VMAP, a past board member of the Medical Society of Virginia and herself a pediatrician. “In Virginia, there are only 13 child and teen psychiatrists for every 100,000 children, a ratio that threatens the wellbeing of many of our youngest citizens. We are grateful to Gov. Northam and Sec. Carey for their leadership, as well as the leadership of Virginia legislators who helped provide VMAP’s foundational funding for this critical initiative.”

According to VMAP, as part of the initial development of the program over the past two years, more than 500 primary care providers around the state have enrolled with the VMAP consult line, more than 1,000 consultations already have been provided to primary care providers treating children and adolescents via VMAP’s consult line, and more than 450 providers have received training in pediatric mental health through VMAP’s educational program.

VMAP was awarded a Health Resources and Services Administration grant through the Virginia Department of Health in 2018, enabling VMAP to launch its first services for Virginia primary care providers treating children and adolescents. This included pediatric mental health educational programming and a part-time consult line staffed with child and adolescent psychiatrists available to primary care providers statewide. The 2019 Governor’s budget included $1.2 million to support implementing VMAP services in the northern and eastern regions of the state, including regional behavioral health providers to support with consultation, and care navigation services. Soon after, MSVF was named program administrator for the program. In 2020, VMAP was included the state budget for an additional $4.2 million dollars to expand VMAP services statewide.

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