Heather Major is executive director of the Independence Blue Cross (IBX) Foundation. She talks of how the IBX Foundation’s commitment and partnership with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is addressing the youth mental health crisis in the city, with the potential to set a model for the nation.
The healthcare system has historically been designed to treat physical health. Mental health care has not received the same level of attention and resources. One of the outcomes of the pandemic is a greater awareness as a society about the crisis level of anxiety and depression in children. It’s a call to action: What are we going to do about it?
The Independence Blue Cross Foundation is committed to mental health. The work we do to expand mental healthcare is changing children’s lives and those around them. When we reach children earlier, with the right support, and help them build strategies for resilience to manage adversity — children are healthier, families are healthier, and our society is healthier as a result.
One way to expand mental healthcare is to meet children where they are — and in every community, county and state children are at school. School-based programs provide an ideal opportunity to improve equitable access to mental health services and supports. Because of our collaboration and funding to support CHOP and Girard College, CHOP clinicians address the unmet mental health needs of the 300 students at Girard College and train Girard faculty and teachers to help identify children who may be struggling. This program leverages technology to better engage with students and their families and enables clinicians to provide care in an environment where students feel more comfortable. The objective is to screen, identify and have a clinical pathway that allows children to access appropriate levels of services and support.
We’re very fortunate that the nation’s leading children’s hospital, right here in Philadelphia, has joined us in this critical work and continues to be committed to mental healthcare in the community. Our partnership with CHOP and Girard College makes this student-focused, integrated model possible. It’s been a true collaboration with a funder, a provider, the school, the school families and the children. It’s pretty phenomenal.
We are really excited to work with Dr. Tami Benton, Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Executive Director and Chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Dr. Tyra Bryant-Stephens, who leads the Center for Health Equity, and Dr. Consuelo Corazon Cagande, Division Chief of the Community Care and Wellness Program, as we embark on our continued commitment to expanding mental healthcare in the West Philadelphia neighborhood of Cobbs Creek by establishing this program at more schools. Together we’re defining the resources and support needed by all communities that can serve as a replicable model for our nation.
It's important we look at the full continuum of care for mental health to ensure children in crisis receive appropriate services and ongoing care. We have a unique opportunity to support CHOP through the pediatric mental health crisis center in the former Mercy Hospital in West Philadelphia. When CHOP opens its Behavioral Health & Crisis Center later this year, there will be an inpatient facility and a 24/7 walk-in crisis center for children and adolescents experiencing a psychiatric or behavioral health crisis. It’s another amazing opportunity for us to work together with CHOP to help improve the health and well-being of children in our community.
Children should have an opportunity to live to their full potential. We believe we can achieve this locally through our work with CHOP and nationally through its replicability.