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Kids in Crisis: Provider shortage can mean long waits for mental health help

As part of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series Kids in Crisis, this story explores the need for better access to mental and behavioral health for children and discusses the practices that are already in place.

“More children in Wisconsin are struggling with mental health challenges, even as a shortage of providers makes it more difficult to get help.

Amy Herbst, vice president of mental and behavioral health for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, which has outpatient clinics across the state said, ‘Every day, we have families calling us all around the state attempting to get an appointment with a therapist.’

The response to those calls is typically the same: The wait could be weeks or even months.

‘We all just feel terrible about it because we want to do better,’ Herbst said. ‘And we will do better, but we’re not in that position yet.’”

As an example, the story cites Children's Hospital of Wisconsin’s behavioral health specialists in 19 of its 26 clinics across the state, who are also shared among the rest of the sites. Smriti Khare, a pediatrician and president of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Primary Care, says, “Still, it's hard not to feel inadequate as a health care provider when you're unable to get a patient the help they need right away…We all lose so much sleep over these kids. You worry about them.”

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin also partnered with Ascension Wisconsin and ThedaCare about five years ago to form Catalpa Health, a partnership that aims to improve access to youth mental health services in northeastern Wisconsin.

The story ends with a call-to-action from Amy Herbst, “More young people need to be encouraged to consider careers in mental health. And health care providers need to continue to focus on prevention and early intervention.”

Read the full story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.