Connecticut Children’s Hospital inspires federal grant for pediatric mental health care

Senator Murphy met with staff at Connecticut Children’s Hospital to celebrate the opening of a $60 million federal grant program the hospital launched in January.

Yash Roy

1:07 am October 26, 2022

Staff reporter

Yale Daily News

Emergency rooms in Connecticut are overwhelmed with pediatric psychiatric crises.

A mental health education initiative presented to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) by Connecticut Children’s, one of the state’s largest providers of pediatric care, could help combat the spike.

Last Monday, Murphy and doctors from Connecticut Children’s gathered in Hartford to celebrate Launching on October 5th of a $60 million federal grant that grew out of an idea originally presented by Connecticut Children’s. The grant will provide medical schools and training programs with funding to better educate their students on how to provide mental health care.

The funding was part of the larger Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that Murphy passed the Senate earlier this year after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The bill includes provisions for specific gun control measures as well as increasing mental health spending in the United States.

“We don’t talk about mental health like this and we don’t have bills like this passed,” said Melissa Santos, Connecticut Children’s chief of pediatric psychology. “So we’re excited to apply for funding and continue this conversation.” We want to work and take advantage of that opportunity and build on it to make it something more sustainable.”

Murphy visited the hospital in January to discuss legislative options to expand the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, which he sponsored and helped sign. The law modernized the grant application process, consolidated federal mental health and substance abuse grants, and expanded funding for them. However, the pandemic has sharpened the nation’s mental health crisis.

“Pediatricians are witnessing the escalating mental health crisis facing young people in our clinics, practices and hospitals across the country,” American Academy of Pediatrics President Moira Szilagyi wrote to the News. “Addressing this crisis, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, will require comprehensive action to ensure that all children have access to mental health services wherever they are, including schools and their pediatrician’s office.”

Providers at the meeting told Murphy that their emergency departments are overwhelmed with pediatric mental health crises. This problem is not unique to Connecticut Children’s; in 2021, the US Surgeon General issued a nationwide special tips on the provision of adequate care for children’s mental health.

Doctors at the meeting also told Murphy about gaps in mental health education in current medical schools and residency programs. Specifically, physicians advocated for better mental health education for pediatricians. Santos said almost every child in the U.S. has a pediatrician, but very few pediatricians have adequate training to identify mental health issues and provide appropriate care.

Santos told the News that much of the information they provided Murphy came from conversations between pediatricians at Connecticut Children’s Center who shared mental health education gaps in their own training.

After the meeting, Murphy “couldn’t stop thinking about” the information he had heard, he wrote Twitter. The senator directed his staff to create a policy solution to closing the education gap.

As the bipartisan Safer Communities Act began to take shape, Murphy was able to include a $60 million grant that medical schools and training programs could apply for to provide improved mental health education to their students.

“The bipartisan Safer Communities Act provides $60 million to train primary care residents in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental and behavioral health conditions,” Murphy told the News. “When parents notice that their child is struggling with mental health, the first place many of them turn to is their pediatrician.”

According to Santos, Connecticut Children’s hopes to use the grant they are in the process of applying for to strengthen their mental health curriculum for medical students and residents. Connecticut Children’s is the teaching affiliate of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine as well as the Quinnipiac University School of Medicine.

“Our providers are not sure about the right way to ask about suicide or suicide risk,” Santos told the News. “So really one of our goals if we win this grant is to develop a curriculum that helps us teach students how to be comfortable with language and assessment so that when a child comes to them, they can help instead of turning to someone else. ”

Hartford Connecticut Children’s Hospital is located at 282 Washington St.


Yash Roy covers City Hall and state politics for the news. He is also the production and design editor. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a sophomore at Timothy Dwight College double majoring in economics and American studies.

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