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School-based primary care to add mental health services for young people


Youths still reeling from losses, distress of COVID-19 pandemic, federal leaders say.

School-based primary care will add mental health services for youths under a new grant program offered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Up to $25 million will be available to expand health care in sites funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which pays for more than 3,400 school-based service sites across the country.

HHS announced the program as part of the plan by the administration of President Joe Biden to improve and expand behavioral health services for youths.

“President Biden recognizes that mental health is fundamental to the overall health and well-being of our country’s children and young adults, and he has been supportive of HHS programs and policies to expand youth mental health services,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a news release. “Ensuring that children can access the care they need in schools, including mental health services, is a critical way we can support their healthy growth and development.”

School-based service sites provide access to primary health care for children and adolescents. HRSA-funded health centers will use this funding to expand access to general primary medical and mental health care through new school-based sites and expansions at existing sites. HRSA anticipates funding 70 awards; the agency pays for nearly 1,400 health centers operating more than 15,000 community sites across the country, according to the announcement with HHS.

“At the Health Resources and Services Administration, we are using all available levers to expand access to mental health care,” HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson said in the news release. “We want to ensure that there is no wrong door to young people finding help. That’s why we are investing in expanding mental health care in schools to help kids get the support they need.

“We look forward to a robust applicant pool in response to this exciting funding announcement,” Johnson said.

Since September 2021, HRSA has awarded $30 million to increase access to health care in schools. Becerra and Miguel Cardona, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, attributed current conditions to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of June 2021, about 140,000 children lost parent or grandparent caregivers to COVID-19, Becerra and Cordona said to state governors in a letter at this time last year. “Youth reports of psychological distress have doubled since the pandemic began,” with 25% reporting depressive symptoms and 20% reporting anxiety, they said.

“While the pandemic's long-term impacts on children and youth are not fully understood, working together to build resilience in children, youth, and families can promote equity and support recovery efforts,” their letter said.

Grant applications are due at the end of March.

Earlier this year, HHS announced the department would award almost $245 million from the Safer Communities Act for youth mental health and mental health workforce needs. In that round of funding, almost $60 million was allocated to support mental health training for primary care clinicians, focusing on mental health needs of children and adolescents, according to HHS.

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