AUSTIN, Texas (KCBD) — When their names were called Wednesday morning from the front of the Texas House of Representatives and Senate, the faces of Belle and Abby Andrews lit up from the galleries.
The two girls, who are being treated for Niemann-Pick disease at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, waved to the applause of pediatricians, health advocates and state legislators as their treatment journey was shared to call for continued investment in pediatric health and mental health care . healthcare statewide.
Niemann-Pick disease, informally referred to as “Childhood Alzheimer’s,” is one of many complex cases treated by pediatricians across Texas.
“Belle and Abby,” said Senator Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) during a resolution call, “thank you for your courage and strength. You are planting trees for future generations that none of us will ever see, but your commitment to the health care of all children by working on your health care needs will grow exponentially.
More than a dozen state legislators advocated and praised the excellent and life-saving care that Texas Children’s Hospitals provide under the umbrella each day, in honor of the inaugural “Children’s Hospital Day” in conjunction with the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas.
That advocacy group, made up of eight hospitals across Texas, including Covenant Children’s in Lubbock, briefed lawmakers on the struggles facing pediatrics in the wake of COVID-19 and ahead of the 2024-25 biennium.
During a lunch presentation on Wednesday, members focused on three areas for improvement for pediatric care: a statewide long-term mental health plan, increased funding for access to mental health services, and Medicaid funding.
According to the CDC, suicide was the second leading cause of death among children ages 10-14 in 2022, and JAMA shows that the number of diagnoses of anxiety and depression rose nearly 30 percent between 2016 and 2020; that’s leading pediatricians to advocate for a more “cohesive continuum of care” for children with serious mental health problems, according to CHAT’s legislative briefing materials.
“Currently, the data to support the number and types of pediatric inpatient mental health beds needed in the state does not currently exist,” reads a CHAT flyer. “This analysis is essential to estimate that need for the next 10 years. Understanding the number, types and locations of services needed throughout the state will enable appropriate planning and development to meet needs in both the short and long term.”
As filed last week, both initial drafts of the state budget contain language that would fund this study from the Health and Human Services Commission.
Along with that study and that long-term plan, the association is calling for $300 million to be spent on hospital infrastructure projects that would provide more treatment capacity, enabling them to diagnose, treat and stabilize more children in crisis. That money could also go to suicide prevention programs and multiple “step-down” programs, which help children recover their mental health.
More than four million children are enrolled in Medicaid, or the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, representing more than half of Texas children and more than three out of four Medicaid cases in the state. With that in mind, CHAT warns lawmakers against making changes to Medicaid rates or adding loopholes, claiming that doing so could make it more difficult for facilities to qualify for federal loopholes.
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