Asst. US Health Secretary Rachel Levine meets with mental health care providers in Lehigh Valley | Lehigh Valley Regional News

St. Luke’s University Health Network hosted a Behavioral Health Roundtable with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine as special guest.

The event brought together health experts, politicians and community members to discuss issues facing the mental health system.

“We see such mental health issues, especially in our young people,” Levine said. “I am very pleased to be the co-chair of the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council for the Secretary and we are looking at all aspects of the behavioral health system and ways to improve it for patient care.”

Local officials shared their experiences with Levine, saying that as the country emerges from the pandemic, they are seeing an increase in mental health cases.

St. Luke’s says it has seen a 36% increase in cases, including children and teenagers.

“What’s critical right now is if we can provide services today to someone eight or nine years old or reduce their anxiety and their likelihood of using substances or entering a cycle of addiction. It’s critical,” said Dr Jody McCloud Missner. , behavioral and psychiatric administrator at St. Luke’s.

KidsPeace, which serves about 8,000 children in eight states, says it is also seeing a dramatic increase in cases. And like other providers, it’s struggling to find the funding and staff to keep up with demand.

“The mental health industry as a whole has been underfunded so we have not been able to keep pace with the wage inflation that is happening in our country,” said Michael Slack, president and CEO of KidsPeace.

Slack says KidsPeace speaks to lawmakers about the need for more funding and to educate the public about job opportunities and the possibility of career growth at the nonprofit.

“We have hundreds of people who come to work for KidPeace and spend their entire careers with us,” Slack said. “They start and lead the care they put in place. They can go into nursing, they can go into social work, they can go into medicine, they can go into administration. But they can go into careers and that’s a very rewarding career, they can literally save lives.”

The Lehigh Valley is just one of many stops on a national listening tour for Levine, who says she also shares the Biden administration’s vision for transforming the mental health system and addressing the challenges ‘she hears.

“We need sustainable funding and we need to be able to improve workforce, IT capabilities, etc. through public health now and in the future,” Levine said.

Levine says part of that challenge is to improve telehealth access and equity for everyone who needs mental health services.

“To be able to do telehealth, you need to have either cell service or broadband service,” Levine said. “So we also need to approach this issue from a health equity perspective.”

Dr. James A. James, acting chair of psychiatry and behavioral health at St. Luke’s, says he’s only been in the Lehigh Valley for six years, but it’s the worst he’s ever had. given the demand for mental health.

James says he thinks the pandemic is only part of the problem that led to this point. He says the stigma around mental health hasn’t diminished for some.

“In order to make sure we’re really addressing this issue, we need to get people on board early, we need to make them feel like they can talk and not feel stigmatized about asking for help,” James said. . “And then making sure they get the right level of care.”

Health providers say that if you or a member of your family are struggling with mental health issues, you should talk to your doctor or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline on 1 -800-950-6264.

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