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Walk-in clinic to provide psychiatric help for kids

May 24, 2003|By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A walk-in clinic for children with psychiatric needs will open in Hagerstown this summer in an effort to reduce long waiting periods caused by a shortage of certified child and adolescent psychiatrists, officials said.

Jeff O'Neal, clinical director of Behavioral Health Services, said the clinic will provide services to children ages 3 to 15 beginning in July. The facility will open in the agency's office in the H.W. Murphy Building at 24 N. Walnut St.

The clinic will provide services to all children in need regardless of the ability to pay.

The Washington County Commissioners this week approved a $24,999 grant for Behavoral Health Services to pay for two nursing positions and four hours of psychiatric services a week, according to a county document.

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Behavoral Health Services received the grant from Washington County Community Partnership, which is overseen by the county government. Behavoral Health Services will pay $112,381 for additional mental health and administrative services, the document states.

Paula Fisher, of the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families, said some children must wait as long as three months for treatment because of the shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists.

"We have an identified need, and we can't meet the need," O'Neal said.

Fisher said the backlog causes some families to take their children to a primary care physician who may not have the background to handle psychiatric problems. For children with severe problems, the long waiting period sometimes forces students out of school until they can see a psychiatrist.

She said schools disallow students with significant psychiatric problems back until they are evaluated by a psychiatrist.

Other families take their children to the emergency room when psychiatric problems arise, but the emergency room does not provide follow-up treatment, O'Neal said.

At the walk-in clinic, a child will undergo a psychological evaluation to determine the level of treatment needed and then be referred to a psychiatrist. A Behavoral Health Services nurse will have regular contact with the child and family for crisis help, ongoing counseling and medication management education, Fisher said.

Nurses will be in charge of providing medication to families who can't afford the cost.

O'Neal said Behavioral Health Services has received positive feedback on the clinic, which will be the only one of its kind in the county.

"I think it was pretty much an overwhelming, 'Let's give this a go,'" he said.

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