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All Children’s raises awareness, money for pediatric mental health center

Mark Parker

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Huntley, now 9, was diagnosed with autism and a severe form of ADHD. Following specialized therapies and expert guidance from the Center for Behavioral Health at Johns Hopkins All Children's hospital, Huntley is now thriving. Screengrab.

With health professionals seeing an alarming increase in pediatric patients with mental health issues and Florida ranking near the bottom regarding behavioral health spending, raising community funding for those programs is imperative.

St. Petersburg’s Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital held its signature fundraising event Saturday night – A Night for All Children – to raise money for its renowned Center for Behavioral Health. Now in its second year, the event combines two longtime staples of support for the hospital and its patients, the All Children’s Foundation Guild’s annual Charity Ball and the VIP Auction.

The hospital’s charitable foundation held the Charity Ball for 89 years, with the VIP Auction running for 31 years before the pandemic canceled the 2020 festivities. Last year’s A Night for All Children event, held virtually, raised $230,241 for the All Children’s Center for Behavioral Health. Back in person, the hospital raised over $500,000 Saturday night. Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein, co-director of the center and director of psychology, neuropsychology and social work at St. Petersburg’s Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, said those events are critical for the center’s success.

“In so many ways, we’re so grateful to our foundation here at Johns Hopkins All Children’s, for number one, bringing awareness to mental health and recognizing that we can’t have overall health and wellness without both physical and mental health …,” said Katzenstein. “In addition, Florida ranks low – nearly the lowest in the country for the amount of spending per person on mental health and behavioral health services.”

Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein, director of psychology, neuropsychology and social work for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, has noticed a sharp increase in pediatric patients with mental health issues. Photo provided.

Katzenstein added that insurance reimbursement for those services is also quite meager – and for the hospital to provide a high level of care and meet a growing need, it must rely on the foundation and community support to supplement funding. She called All Children’s legislative supporters in Tallahassee “fantastic,” but hospital officials continue to advocate and bring awareness to the need for more resources.

“Quite honestly, insurance reimbursement alone isn’t sufficient to cover the cost of care,” she said. “As you know, sometimes getting the funding that’s needed can be the biggest challenge.”

The Center for Behavioral Health provides a myriad of services for children suffering from mental and behavioral health issues. Psychiatrists, psychologists and neuropsychologists work alongside social workers to evaluate and treat pediatric patients through medication management and individualized therapy.

The center also conducts clinical research and training to address several mental health concerns. These include psychosis, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, disruptive behavior and sleep disorders in children through outpatient and inpatient programs. Additionally, the social services team provides intervention and psychosocial support services to aid the needs and functioning of children at home.

“Our long-term hope is to be able to provide a higher level of care, including services across what we call a mental health treatment continuum,” said Katzenstein.

The continuing high level of care extends to children like Huntley. He’s an 8-year-old boy who experienced a traumatic birth with exposure to group B streptococcus, an infection that nearly cost him his life. While he overcame those initial medical challenges, Katzenstein said the exposure resulted in several cognitive changes in Huntley’s brain that have evolved as he continues to develop.

Doctors diagnosed Huntley with autism and a severe form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that makes it difficult for him to learn and socially engage. Katzenstein said she and other health professionals at the Center for Behavioral Health at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital continuously evaluate Huntley and his treatment plan, including behavior, speech, language and occupational therapy. The center also ensures that his school and educational programming contribute to his success.

With those specialized therapies and expert guidance, Huntley is thriving. Katzenstein relayed that Huntley came into her office with some very hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. Through the work of her and her colleagues, those behaviors and his social interactions have improved dramatically.

“It has been so rewarding to watch Huntley develop over time into such an inquisitive and genuinely kind young man,” said Katzenstein. “Watch him make friends and learn more in the classroom.”

Katzenstein said that mental health concerns in children are more prevalent than ever before due to an influx of stressors and demands that other generations did not have to navigate. Social media, the pandemic and political and social factors all contribute, she said, and increase the importance of raising attention and awareness of the issue.

As pediatric mental health issues increase, so does the demand for treatments that doctors have proven successful in children like Huntley.

“And we can’t do that without donor support,” said Katzenstein. “We need to continue to build strong programs to support our kids at every level and ensure they have the best possible futures.”

To learn more about Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, visit the website here. To watch a video on Huntley’s story, visit the link here.

 

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