Last week, HHS announced that they have awarded nearly $25 million to Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)-funded health centers that deliver services at school-based sites in underserved communities. These awards build upon the $5 million that HRSA distributed to new and existing school-based service sites in September 2021.
Similar to last year’s round of awards, selected health centers were granted up to $200,000 in funds, but this time on a much larger scope— this year’s awards cover 125 health centers across 39 states and Puerto Rico. This is a significant investment as one in nine children in the U.S access primary care through a HRSA-funded health center. At the height of the pandemic, 41 percent of health centers provided services to youth at over 3,200 school-based sites.
The awards came at the onset of Mental Health Awareness Month, and are among the recent actions that the Biden-Harris Administration has taken to support schools as a site to address youth mental health needs. In March, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona addressed a letter to governors stating their intent to provide technical assistance and resources to provide guidance on federal funding for school-based health services (with a shout out to Medicaid!) and reducing administrative burden for states and local education agencies. As part of this partnership, the Administration has already compiled and shared a list of resources to serve as a one-stop-shop for the tools that currently exist for educators and health professionals as they continue to navigate school-based health services amid the youth mental health crisis.
A description of these efforts and more are included in a fact sheet that HHS also released last week in celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month. The fact sheet details the steps that the Biden-Harris Administration has taken across agencies to date to strengthen America’s mental health infrastructure. In addition to a section focusing on their youth mental health initiatives, the fact sheet also includes sections outlining the Administration’s activities related to the behavioral health workforce, strengthening mental health parity, and expanding access to telehealth services. Medicaid is also mentioned several times throughout, solidifying the importance of the program in addressing critical behavioral health needs.
The actions laid out in this fact sheet serve not just as boxes on a checklist, but evidence of an ongoing commitment to working to address the significant toll that the pandemic has taken on the mental wellbeing of children and their families. However, more still needs to be done to address the mental health needs of youth, including ensuring children don’t lose coverage for mental health care once the public health emergency ends. We look forward to continuing to highlight the importance of and opportunities to improve mental health care for children including through school-based health services and Medicaid throughout the month of May, and well beyond!