UF Health partners with local providers to meet pediatric mental health needs
At the UF Health Pediatric Wellness Center – Prudential Drive, patients can access comprehensive physical and mental health care in one location.
Parents seeking help for a child with mental health issues often navigate a maze full of obstacles caused by complicated referral policies and lack of appointments. UF Health is working to remove the hurdles families face through an integrative approach that provides convenient care.
The UF Health Pediatric Wellness Center – Prudential Drive offers specialized services for children up to the age of 18. It combines primary care, psychology and psychiatry into one full-service practice. The center is designed to give young patients and families the ultimate resource to improve their quality of life.
“The Pediatric Wellness Center is a pediatric primary care home for children with complex mental and behavioral health issues,” said Sherry Fahmi Shenoda, MD, a pediatrician at UF Health Jacksonville.
Shenoda is the primary care physician at the center and works along with a UF Health medical assistant, nurse manager and care coordinator. They collaborate and share a suite with one psychiatrist and multiple psychologists from other Jacksonville health systems, one of whom specializes in autism. As part of the Partnership for Child Health, which advocates for children’s health needs in the community, providers here are well-connected with other community health organizations, such as the Child Guidance Center, Danielkids, Mental Health Resource Center, River Point Behavioral Health Center and Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
According to Shenoda, many patients arrive after a mental health crisis and involuntary hospitalization per the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, commonly known as the Baker Act. Other patients have not been hospitalized, but experience a range of symptoms, such as suicide attempts, recurring manic thoughts or uncontrolled attention deficit disorders. They also may have been in and out of mental health facilities without receiving the help they need.
At the first appointment, Shenoda and her staff meet with the child and parents to establish a patient history.
“We talk about what has happened the last few weeks, what happened to get them admitted to the hospital, if that is the case. What does their home life look like? School life? Do they have friends? Are they on any medications? Do they have any other diagnoses?” Shenoda explained. “Then I ask the parent to step out of the room with the care coordinator. The nurse and I stay with the patient a little longer and ask if they feel safe at home and school. Are they engaging in sexual activity or substance abuse? Then I do an exam.”
After the meeting and physical exam, Shenoda meets with the family separately to see if they have additional concerns. Finally, parents, the patient and providers reunite to create a treatment plan together. They discuss beneficial forms of therapy and their openness to medication. Some patients ask their therapist to attend as well.
“We’re getting positive feedback from patients and families, and it’s filling a need,” Shenoda said. “Oftentimes, there is a wait to see a psychiatrist. In the interim, families run out of medications, lose their insurance or may not have a primary care provider. The mental health system can be difficult to navigate on your own.
As families move forward with their treatment plans, the care coordinator can visit them at home and communicate with the patient’s school and therapist to ensure every aspect of their health is addressed. They reach out between appointments to check in, and help with referrals to legal aid and other resources when necessary.
This all-encompassing approach, made possible by partnerships UF Health has with other health systems, is keeping more and more children from slipping through the cracks due to inaccessible mental health care.
“Navigating the system and catching them before a crisis are the two biggest goals,” Shenoda said. “We ask, ‘Where is this child in the continuum of mental health? What can we do to keep them from having another crisis? Where does this child need services, and how can we support this family?’”
Plans for the center include hiring a social worker, hosting support groups for children and parents, strengthening partnerships with other community organizations, and bringing a UF Health psychologist or psychiatrist on board, so patients can see their mental health and primary care providers in one appointment.
For more information about the UF Health Pediatric Wellness Center – Prudential Drive, call 383.1789.