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Getting Mississippi children mental health services in rural areas

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 10:58 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As the pandemic rages on, many kids in rural areas are going without the pediatric mental health services they need - and it’s hurting them.

Meet Kosciusko resident Rowena Dodds and her 6-year-old son, William.

He loves his mom and she loves him. That’s why it is important for her to provide him with everything he needs to live a normal life.

See, William has autism. She saw some signs as a baby, but didn’t know how to diagnose what was wrong.

“He is different than normal kids,” she said.

Last year she got him tested and, thanks to a new program called Child Access to Mental Health and Psychiatry, known as CHAMP, she was able to get him the help and medication he needed.

“He listens to me, he calms down, he is not going to block me. He is always going to listen. I am so happy about that. I have found out the program,” Dodds said.

The CHAMP program is less than two years old but is already making an impact across the state.

It is a peer-to-peer program that supports primary care providers such as doctors and nurse practitioners with questions about mental health care such as diagnostic clarification, medication adjustment, or treatment planning.

These consultations are offered with an educational focus and are performed by UMMC child psychiatrists and psychologists.

“So, they call and we will talk with them about whatever needs are going on. Whether that is a figuring out what might be happening with the kid or assisting in medication management, or resources, to behavioral health supports in the community. It is free of charge to their patients,” said child psychologist and co-director of the CHAMP program, Dustin Sarver.

The program also targets those in rural areas like Kosciusko where, many times, young people are left out because of their zip code.

“We have enrolled over 200 primary care providers and through them we have been able to serve over 300 patients and their families. We have kept them from traveling long distances to see mental health care providers in distant cities. We are happy about the numbers. Obviously, we would like to see them higher,” said Medical Director CHAMP, Dr. Philip Merideth.

“It is not an understatement to say that Mississippi is at the bottom of the nation in terms of what we call integrated primary care or integrated behavioral health, meaning we don’t have a lot of behavioral specialists embedded in primary care practices. So, what CHAMP does is reduce that barrier and brings access to underserved, rural areas and places like the Delta, " Sarver said.

Providing access for providers and patients is key to closing the health gap.

A task that this CHAMP team says will take more than one program, but it is a good start to getting kids and young adults up to 21-years-old the mental health care they need.

“I hear a lot of times the saying that health care is missing the care piece of things of that approach. We need to be doing more on the preventative end to address mental health and putting some of these things in place, to ensure that kids, adolescences and so on what they need to thrive. If we have more of these types of programs available, it just closes the gap more and we’re able to provide those resources, again, sooner rather than later,” said Gigi Holder, CHAMP Program Director.

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