Virginia unveils new statewide initiative to increase access to mental health services

RICHMOND, Va. – As part of Virginia’s observation of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, a new statewide initiative has launched that is designed to enhance access to mental health services.

Gov. Ralph Northam and Dr. Daniel Carey, Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, officially unveiled the new statewide initiative, Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP).

VMAP has been under development since 2018.

According to a press release, 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.”

The Virginia Mental Health Access Program is centered around four core components:

· 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.

According to VMAP, more than 500 primary care providers around the state have enrolled to the VMAP consult line with more than 1,000 consultations already having been provided to primary care providers treating children and adolescents via VMAP’s consult line.

More than 450 providers also have received training in pediatric mental health through VMAP’s educational program.

“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., the 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.”

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