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LISTEN: Key program links pediatricians to psychiatric services for youth during pandemic mental health crisis

Model developed at UMass Chan provides access for children, teens across Massachusetts

By Sarah Willey and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

April 11, 2022

Amid a growing mental health crisis among young people, experts at UMass Chan Medical School are working on the front lines to support pediatricians across Massachusetts who are caring for struggling children and their families.

In a new Voices of UMass Chan podcast, Yael Dvir, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics and Bruce Waslick, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at UMass Chan-Baystate, discuss how the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Program, also known as MCPAP, has been providing primary care providers with quick access to psychiatric consultations since 2004.

“The most natural place that families seek help is actually with their primary care providers,” said Dr. Dvir. “Pediatricians don't necessarily have the training, the capacity or the access to ask somebody about what to do.”

MCPAP was established in 2004 based on a pilot conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical School. When primary care providers are looking for guidance on pediatric behavioral health, they can call the MCPAP team in their region and an administrative staff member will arrange an initial consultation with a clinician.

“The clinicians will then talk to the primary care doctor, hear what's going on with their particular patient and try to answer their questions over the phone. Many times, we can provide phone consultations that give the pediatrician or the nurse practitioner what they need to move forward with the patient. Sometimes we set up virtual or in-person consultations,” said Dr. Waslick.

Waslick directs the UMass Chan-Baystate site for MCPAP. Dvir directs the Medical School’s MCPAP site. Together, their teams serve Central and Western Massachusetts providers.

“It's been a real challenge keeping up with the demand for services during the pandemic,” said Waslick.

The demand for psychological services is at an all-time high. In December 2021, the U.S. surgeon general noted a mental health crisis among young people, citing the rising numbers of children and young adults who were struggling with anxiety and depression even before COVID-19. According to a report in JAMA Pediatrics, depressive and anxiety symptoms doubled during the pandemic, with 25 percent of youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 20 percent experiencing anxiety symptoms.

MCPAP has seven sites that serve more than 98 percent of the pediatric primary care providers in Massachusetts. It has been widely accepted as an effective way to enhance pediatric behavioral health care access and has become a national model.

“Over 40 states and territories in the U.S. have some sort of child psychiatry access program, and it all started in Massachusetts,” Dvir said.

Listen to the full podcast at: umassmed.edu/news/voices

To learn more about MCPAP, visit: https://www.mcpap.com/

RelatedUMass Chan news story:
Child Psychiatry Access Project for Autism Spectrum Disorder at the ready during pandemic