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'Long overdue': Wolfson Children's calls for mental health funding after 300% increase in pediatric ER visits

The VP of Behavioral Health at Wolfson says they need more funding to meet the need.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Wolfson Children's Hospital is reporting a 300% increase in need for emergency mental health services for kids. They've also seen a 200% increase in requests for services like seeing a psychiatrist. 

The increases have happened during the pandemic. Now, they’re calling for help from the government to be able to meet the needs of what they call a national mental health emergency in kids.

They've joined the Sound the Alarm for Kids campaign.

Wolfson Children's Vice President of Behavioral Health Dr. Terrie Andrews says the pandemic has entirely shifted kids' lives, making a major impact on their mental state. 

One mom felt the lack of resources when her daughter was in crisis in September. 

“I was terrified," said Traci Wurstner. "I was terrified, but then when I started looking around, I wasn’t the only one.”

When Wurstner needed emergency help for her daughter's mental health, they couldn’t get seen for days. That was four months ago.

"When I was in the hospital, everything I saw beyond our own issues made me sad and almost angry," said Wurstner. 

Story continues below.

RELATED: Mental health emergencies: Moms bring attention to delayed care during mental health crises

There is a lack of resources for kids. Dr. Andrews says there are 300 emergency beds in Northeast Florida for adults. For kids, there are only 60. 

On top of that, Andrews says about 50% of kids are on Medicaid.

“Medicaid for behavioral health in the state of Florida has not increased in well over 30 years," Andrews said. "I don’t think anybody would work anywhere without a raise in over 30 years. So what is happening is, our community-based agencies cannot afford psychiatry services anymore, and these kids aren’t getting the help they need. Therefore, they show up in our emergency rooms.”

Since Wurstner shared her daughter’s story, Andrews says they’ve hired more staff. But nationwide, behavioral health needs more funding, more training and more reform.

“The call to action is long overdue," Wurstner said. "What is really at stake is the here and now, the families that are losing their kids."

There are free resources you can take advantage of right now from home. Kids and teens can call the free mental health hotline to talk to someone at any time at 904-202-7900 or text LIFE to 741741 and a counselor will text you back.

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