When then-13-year-old Sarah Ford started seeing and hearing things she knew weren’t really there, she told her mom she needed help. Susan Ford immediately called their Mercy pediatrician’s office in Springfield, Missouri, for an appointment.
“It was kind of scary at first when you ask for help,” Sarah said. “I was afraid of being locked away or something, but it was the opposite of that.”
In fact, the visit was much more than either Sarah or her mother expected. Her pediatrician had a resource right at her fingertips: Cassie Turner, an advanced practice psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at Mercy Virtual in Chesterfield, Missouri, appeared on a secure video connection and started a virtual visit with Sarah.
“I was so relieved,” Susan said. “As a mom, I wasn’t sure what to do. That immediate help kept me from being overwhelmed.”
Sarah and Susan's story was featured in The Wall Street Journal as it detailed Mercy's efforts to expand mental health care for kids.
Immediate help is exactly what Mercy’s vMentalWellness Kids program is all about. While it can provide virtual video consultations, they aren’t even the biggest part of Mercy’s care plan.
“Nationwide, there are not enough mental health care providers to go around,” said Dr. Kyle John, Mercy pediatric psychiatrist and the medical director for vMentalWellness. “We knew we needed to expand the number of caregivers who feel they’re able to competently diagnose kids with mental illness and get them started right away on a treatment plan. Most pediatricians and family medicine doctors only spend a day in med school focusing on mental health, so we set out to provide them with the additional tools they needed.”
In January 2018, the vMentalWellness Kids team rolled out a training program for Mercy pediatricians, pediatric subspecialists and family medicine doctors so they could strengthen their skills in diagnosing the four most common mental issues in children:
Now, a year later, more than 1,200 patients have benefited from the program. Nearly 250 Mercy caregivers across Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas have been trained, including 44 across Mercy Springfield Communities. That includes providers in small towns like Lockwood, Aurora, Monett and Richland.
“If I’m not caring for my kiddos, no one else is, either,” said Dr. Laura Waters, Mercy pediatrician, speaking to the shortage of mental health care providers. “I’m diagnosing and treating children with things like ADHD and depression on a daily basis. Our vMentalWellness Kids program is one click away to mental health providers who have access to my notes and details about phone calls with parents and patients. If I need answers immediately, I can call them and they will walk me through the right steps so I can help my patients immediately.”
As for Sarah, she’s managing her mental health with both therapy and medication, and hopes her experience encourages other kids to ask for help if they need it.
“I usually don’t like to talk to people about my depression, but they rolled in something that looked like an iPad with a speaker below it and it was cool,” she said. “She was easy to talk to and the more I talked, the better I felt. My biggest fear when I walked in was that no one could help me, but they did.”
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