Four years ago, two doctors in UMC Health System’s Pediatric Trauma Unit noticed an unsettling trend. As physicians, they could heal the physical wounds of children who had suffered dog bites, car accidents, serious falls and more, but they were powerless to heal the mental and emotional scars these events caused.
After children and their families left the hospital, assessment and treatment of these invisible consequences were minimal. Psychological and behavioral disorders like anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, left untreated, later manifested themselves in behavioral issues, recidivism and even reduced adherence to physical treatment plans. For patients living in rural communities, where mental health treatment options were few and far between, the situation was exacerbated.
Drs. Brian Payne and Thomas McGill knew there had to be a better solution, so they reached out to peers across the country to see what others were doing. What they found, however, was many providers saw the same concerns — and no one had an established approach to assess and treat these types of patients.
So, the physicians reached outside the medical field, to colleagues in Texas Tech University’s couple, marriage and family therapy and clinical psychology programs.
“Seeing the urgency of this need and lack of precedent at other medical centers, Drs. Payne and McGill expressed their concerns and desire to collaborate,” said Cam Brown, an assistant professor of couple, marriage and family therapy. “They wanted not only to serve the local community, but also create a blueprint that other large medical centers serving diverse and rural communities could adopt.”
The collaboration led to the opening of the Children’s Behavioral Health Clinic (CBHC), which now caters to children and adolescents in the community as well as those who have passed through the hospital.
The clinic’s goal is threefold:
• provide affordable mental health support to pediatric patients and families throughout West Texas via teletherapy services;
• provide comprehensive clinical training to doctoral-level family therapists in a collaborative health care setting; and
• conduct high-quality research to improve the efficacy of mental health interventions for pediatric trauma patients and their families while developing a blueprint for other medical systems serving similar communities.
Of the three priorities, teletherapy was the most pressing when the clinic opened.
“Beginning in 2018, the couple, marriage and family therapy faculty saw the growing need for telemental health services in our area because of the rural nature of much of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico,” Brown said. “We saw that many of the smaller, rural communities surrounding Lubbock County did not have a medical practitioner, such as a family doctor or nurse, let alone a mental health practitioner. The lack of resources in these communities required residents to travel several hours to receive care.”
At the same time, new research confirmed that teletherapy was just as effective as in-person treatment for many mental and behavioral health concerns.
A grant from The CH Foundation in early 2020 enabled the CBHC to purchase the proper equipment and provide the necessary training for clinicians to offer telehealth services.
The timing was perfect.
“We had no idea the devastation and difficulties ahead because of COVID-19, but because of these foundational teletherapy pieces that were laid, the CBHC was able to transition quite seamlessly to offering only teletherapy services to patients and their families,” Brown said. “Additionally, to support the health care heroes getting us through this pandemic, we were able to provide no-cost treatment to health care workers who had been working tirelessly to help our community get through this difficult time.”
As valuable as the CBHC is to patients, it’s equally beneficial to the graduate clinical interns from the couple, marriage and family therapy and clinical psychology programs.
“It is a unique training model where these graduate interns grow in their professional development through practical, hands-on work,” Brown said. “They are learning to provide effective clinical services to our beautifully diverse West Texas community through teletherapy and in-person efforts. Additionally, we are one of only a few clinical training programs that offer hospital-setting training, where the CBHC clinical interns develop important skillsets of collaborating with health care providers, unique assessments and medical treatment models.”
It was undoubtedly a fortuitous circumstance that the CBHC was ready to provide teletherapy services just as the pandemic began. But an unanticipated result of COVID-19 was equally fortuitous for providers seeking to help their communities.
“The ‘new’ normal is that many community members are familiar and comfortable with teletherapy services,” Brown said. “The comfort and familiarity with this approach has opened many doors for people to receive mental health services from the comfort of their home. This is especially valuable for those in rural communities that would need to travel hours to see a mental health professional.”
The CBHC’s doors are now open not only through teletherapy, but also in-person services. In fact, the clinic recently received a special visit from Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec.
“It was great having President Schovanec in the clinic and see him light up when he heard about the services we are providing the West Texas community and the current and future research we are doing,” Brown said. “He quickly understood the vision we have for this place.
“Over the years, President Schovanec has made it clear he wants Texas Tech to give back to the local communities that have given so much to our campus. He models that in the work he does through engaged scholarship and community outreach. The CBHC is trying to capture and practice those same types of community efforts.”
To ensure that community members can get the help they need, regardless of their financial situation, all the clinic’s services are provided on a sliding fee scale.
“We hold to the value that we don’t want money to get in the way of individuals and families needing services,” Brown said.
And that’s the heart of the matter: For the many individuals and families who are struggling, the CBHC wants to help.
“Sometimes the hardest and scariest step is making that first call,” Brown said. “When you are ready, our friendly staff and warm clinicians will do all we can to help you achieve the relief you are seeking.”
For more information about the CBHC or its services, or to schedule an appointment, call the clinic at (806) 742-3074.