AB 2464, introduced this week by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, aims to create the Children’s Mental Health Access Network, which would consists of as many as 10 telehealth “hubs” to facilitate telemental health services. The bill calls on the state Health and Human Services Agency to establish a competitive grant program to identify to 10 health systems or community health providers who would be the hubs in a hub-and-spoke telemedicine network.
“Too many of our children are in crisis, and the lack of trained mental health professionals is an enormous contributor,” Aguiar-Curry told local news outlets after submitting the bill. “We must continue efforts to recruit and train new specialty mental health professionals, but we must also act now to connect children’s primary care providers with mental health experts. By using telehealth and provider-to-provider consultation, we can make children’s mental health services accessible throughout California today.”
“We must admit and address our failure to step up and bring mental health resources to our children,” she added. “Ignoring the critical situation will damn this generation of young people to mental health conditions that can lead to lifelong challenges, increased mortality, joblessness, homelessness, and enormous long-term state costs. If we act to create a statewide provider network today, we can bring the benefits of mental health care to children and their families. It is the right thing to do to make care accessible so every child can realize their potential, and furthermore, it’s also the responsible thing to do.”
According to the bill, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends a ratio of 47 child psychiatrists per 100,000 children, yet California has only 13 such specialists to serve a population of roughly 9.26 million children. In addition, less than 5 percent of children covered by the state’s Medicaid program receive at least one mental health treatment, and only 3 percent receive ongoing care.
“California must undertake a multifaceted approach to make better use of the limited supply of specialty mental health providers in the state by deploying them strategically using telehealth and provider-to-provider consultation services to address the unmet need for pediatric behavioral health services across the state,” the bill states.
Under the bill, the 10 identified telehealth hubs would connect with community-based providers, including pediatricians, family practitioners and nurse practitioners, to educate them about the network and solicit participating in the network. They would also provide ongoing education and resources for care providers, as well as case consultation, and facilitate connected health encounters for patients in underserved regions.
Aguiar-Curry championed telehealth payment parity last year with the passage of AB 744 into law. That bill created reimbursement guidelines for telehealth services that would help sustain the Children’s Mental Health Access Network, should it be approved.