While staying on top of a child’s physical health is extremely important, health care providers with Access Health Louisiana are eager to encourage parents and caregivers about the importance of behavioral health in children as well.
Combining care for both physical and mental health is important during any time, they say, but especially in light of the pandemic.
“Pediatric primary care and behavioral health go hand in hand right now, especially during COVID,” Chenier Reynolds-Montz, AHL’s director of outreach, development and operational support, said. “Our clinics are seeing children for well and sick visits with both telemedicine and in person appointments. It’s important to consider the total mind and body approach to kids for their healthcare.”
AHL operates the St. Charles Community Health Centers in Luling and Norco and serves as the parish health unit. They also operate the Albert Cammon Wellness Center and J.B. Martin/R.J. Vial Wellness Center, both of which serve students during the school day.
Because the COVID pandemic has been a stressful time for many families, especially kids, parents and caregivers should be sensitive to signs their child’s behavioral health may be fragile and in need of therapy.
Katie Ussery, a M.Ed., LPC and NCC-lead therapist for AHL, said there are many signs that a child might need therapy.
“Parents and caregivers can look at changes in mood – these could be things like increased anxiety, sadness or aggression,” she said. “Sometimes children will have issues with their sleep or their appetite. Other signs could be children wanting to isolate from family and/ or friends or the opposite could happen … they could become more attached.”
Ussery said if children regress to previous stages of development or show little interest in things that would typically bring them enjoyment, therapy may be warranted. She added that some children may complain about physical ailments – like headaches or stomach aches – or even start performing lower in school when there is a mental health need.
“I think another important thing to remember is that even if everything seems fine, therapy can be beneficial for children,” Ussery said. “Children often need a safe person to talk to outside the family system … no matter how amazing their family.”
Ussery said there is a lot of talk regarding mind and body care lately in the healthcare industry, and AHL therapist and pediatricians work together to refer patients and execute individualized treatment plans.
“Our therapists believe in mind body care,” Ussery said. “Many practice and have trainings in yoga, meditation and other relaxation/mind body techniques. We don’t just look just at the diagnosis, but at the individual. We strive to help them mentally, emotionally and physically.”
Ussery said she has even referred patients out fitness coaching, nutritional guidance, occupational therapy, physical therapy and massages.
“Access Health has over 100 providers,” she said. “This makes it easy to refer for things.”
Ussery added that with creativity, AHL behavioral health providers have had success in incorporating game playing, art, music and bibliotherapy into telemedicine behavioral sessions.
“Through social distancing, our clinics are seeing children consistently returning to appointments via telemed,” she said. “I think this identifies that there is a need for therapy and that the parents and children are comfortable with telemed. In the past there was evidence to support that telemed was an effective. However, I think we are getting to test this evidence in real life and proving it to be correct.”
Pediatrician Dr. Abbey Lewis-Smith, who works at AHL’s Luling clinic, agreed.
“It is amazing how this concept has helped us,” Lewis said of telemed visits, adding AHL doctors are urging parents and caregivers to stay on top of routine care.
“Well visits are extremely important,” she said, echoing the same sentiment for flu vaccines. “It’s very likely that the flu and COVID-19 are going to simultaneously and unfortunately show themselves both in in the fall and the winter months and the health care systems can be definitely overwhelmed with trying to determine what illness it is … especially because they present so similarly.”
She said flu vaccines will help.
“It will help us with addressing the illness the patient has and it’ll help the medical health system not be overwhelmed with trying to take care of both flu and COVID when we’re anticipating spikes in both,” Lewis said.
Michelle Comboy, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner who also works at the AHL Luling clinic, said routine well visits help health care providers stay on track with each child.
“It’s definitely important to keep up with well visits so we can keep vaccinations on track and get flu vaccines done,” she said, adding for young babies and high risk patients who can’t receive the vaccine, it becomes crucial for family members to get it so that everyone can stay protected.
Both Lewis and Comboy said how hard AHL providers work to make referrals from pediatric care scenarios to behavioral and mental health services as easy as possible for all involved parties.
To schedule a telemedicine appointment or in-person visit, call 985-785-5800 for the Luling clinic or 985-307-1600 for the Norco clinic.