A Partnership Approach to Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health at UPMC

December 2, 2021

Child and adolescent behavioral health care is a complex, multidimensional, and multidisciplinary field requiring integrative models of care, services, and support for the individual patient within the context of dynamic familial and societal concerns.

To achieve optimal patient and family outcomes of care for child and adolescent behavioral health patients, two world-class hospitals — UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh — work in concert to provide innovative behavioral health programs and services across the entire continuum of care, both inpatient and outpatient, on a population-health basis. 

Behavioral health providers from UPMC Children’s and UPMC Western are faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, one of the nation’s leading psychiatric research and training programs. The department is consistently ranked in the top training programs in psychiatry for medical students and resident physicians by U.S. News & World Report and Doximity surveys, respectively.

The totality of child and adolescent behavioral health programs at UPMC extends beyond the two exceptional hospitals leading these efforts. The umbrella of clinical care and behavioral health support services for child and adolescent at UPMC includes collaborative efforts with the Department of Pediatrics and its Divisions of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and General Academic Pediatrics. Support is also offered in overlapping areas with Western and the Department of Psychiatry, where internationally respected clinicians and researchers in the fields of depression and bipolar disorders, substance use disorders, suicide prevention, and many others bring their expertise and evidence-based approach to clinical care and behavioral health disorders across the developmental spectrum.

Coupled with this expansive array of clinical partners within Children’s, Western, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine are numerous community-based programs that provide a variety of outpatient support and behavioral health programs to meet the needs of a diverse patient and family population. 

The fully integrated and overlapping reach of child and adolescent behavioral health care within the broad UPMC system streamlines access to the appropriate level of care and fosters coordination with physical health care at all levels. The services operate with an ongoing recognition and mission to destigmatize behavioral health care needs for patients of all ages.   

To implement a vision of clinically integrated care requires strong leadership, support, and coordination, as well as an educational approach to foster understanding among providers, consumers, and their families about the benefits of an integrated model. At UPMC, this is manifested through thoughtful program design across the care continuum, including both physical and mental health.

Leadership

Abigail B. Schlesinger, MD, is both clinical chief of psychiatry at Children’s, as well as chief of child and adolescent programs at Western. Supported fully by both hospitals, her leadership has spearheaded the collaboration to enhance and integrate behavioral health services for children and adolescents, with the collective goal of improving the coordination and integration of behavioral health services and outreach throughout UPMC.

“The value of having international experts in pediatric depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit disorder, amongst others, to help shape service development cannot be overstated. In addition, having physical health experts work together with behavioral health experts (both psychiatrists and therapists) helps us provide better care for youth with medical conditions,” says Dr. Schlesinger.

Integrating Behavioral Health Access Into Pediatric Care Settings

The collaboration between pediatrics and psychiatry has been integral to the success of the child and adolescent psychiatry programs across Children’s and Western. This includes more than 40 integrated therapists across primary care settings in UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics practices, in addition to embedded behavioral health specialists in many Children’s  medical specialties and clinics, such as the diabetes clinics of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and the inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) clinics of pediatric gastroenterology. The extensive child and adolescent behavioral health system at UPMC is one of the most comprehensive, integrated programs in the nation. 

Since joining Children’s, Dr. Schlesinger has increased the capacity of primary care physicians that provide first-line behavioral health care, including screening for substance use, autism, anxiety, and depression. The importance of this approach and the added capacity for behavioral health screening, interventions, and referrals for further treatment cannot be overstated. There remain far too few behavioral health resources and trained clinicians in the United States. Empowering, training, and providing staff resources for behavioral health within primary care are key components of UPMC’s ability to meet patient and family needs in a timely manner.

Additionally, the development of a robust Telephonic Psychiatric Consultation Service (TiPS) for physician support, developed and managed by Dr. Schlesinger, connects primary care clinicians with child psychiatrists for provider-to-provider communications. TiPS also provides psychiatric consultation to physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other providers for appropriate direction of care and the use of medications for psychiatric conditions. In addition, the program facilitates care transitions between primary care teams and specialty behavioral health providers when necessary and appropriate.

Research and Training

Fundamental to the development and outcomes of child and adolescent behavioral health programs is the robust evidence-based research collaborative that allows investigators the time, resources, and patient populations to better understand the underpinnings of behavioral health disorders and devise optimal treatments that can be translated to the clinic with rapidity and be scalable to encompass diverse populations across varied geographies. 

The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is among the best training programs for behavioral health specialists in the United States, with graduates and alumni carrying forth the knowledge, expertise, and philosophical approaches to clinical care and research to institutions and hospitals around the world. 

Child and adolescent psychiatry is a triple board program that combines pediatrics, general psychiatry, and child and adolescent psychiatry that provides a unique training environment for future generations of child and adolescent behavioral health specialists.

Learn More

Listen to Dr. Schlesinger discuss integrated physical and mental health care in pediatric settings in an archived edition of the Psychiatry ADVANCES podcast

Patient Referrals and Additional Information

To refer a patient or for additional information about any of the child and adolescent behavioral health programs and clinics at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, please call 412-692-8351 or 724-933-3910. Visit the Pediatric Behavioral Health Program’s website at CHP.edu

Inquiries and referrals for UPMC Western Behavioral Health Child Services should be directed to 412-235-5444.

In the event of a psychiatric emergency, please direct all calls and referrals to the UPMC Western Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) at 412-624-1000.