Rush testifies before Congress on pandemic’s impact on childrenSep. 27, 2021, 9:39 AM
by Christina Echegaray
As the nation grapples with how to support children through the COVID-19 pandemic, Meg Rush, MD, MMHC, spoke to several members of Congress recently and painted a vivid picture of the toll the virus has taken on children in Tennessee and at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Rush, President of Children’s Hospital, testified Sept. 22 in a hearing, “Putting Kids First: Addressing COVID-19’s Impacts on Children,” along with Lee Savio Beers, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others.
The hearing explored the physical and mental health impacts of the COVD-19 pandemic on children and adolescents in the United States. The witnesses who testified, along with Rush, talked about rising COVID infections, vaccine safety, and the impact of COVID-19 on the physical and mental health of children.
In the week prior to the hearing, from Sept. 9 thru Sept. 16, the U.S. saw 225,000 COVID-19 cases in children. Tennessee recently was listed as No.1 for new infections among children and adults. Rush told the committee members that the rising number of cases in children are layered on top of an off-season spike in respiratory syncytial virus and other respiratory illnesses as well significant increases in the number children who are in behavioral health crisis. In recent months, pediatric facilities, including Children’s Hospital, have felt the strain.
“Children’s hospitals account for 2% of the hospitals across the United States. Yet, we are the safety net for all pediatric health care for 20% of the nation’s population,” she said.
While children have largely been spared from severe COVID-19 illness due to biological factors, compared to adults, they still get sick, and some can have lasting symptoms. And the psychological and socio-economic impacts have been far reaching. Many families also delayed well-child care visits for their children.
“Although children were much less sick last year, their health and well-being was negatively impacted. As we know, children and families across the country face substantial disruptions to their daily lives due to COVID-19,” Rush said. “A Vanderbilt Child Health poll conducted in 2020 presents a snapshot of factors that, taken together, negatively impact the health of children, particularly those who face other socio-economic disadvantages, changes in insurance, economic instability, increased food insecurity, decreased physical activity, learning and socialization — are all significant factors that impact child health.”
Along with fellow witnesses, Rush noted that the long-term effects of the pandemic on children will be felt well into the future and will require a collective effort to address the physical and mental health impacts.
There is a parallel behavioral health epidemic, she said, adding that the number of children in the hospital for behavioral health often surpasses the number of children in the hospital for covid.
“Yesterday, there were 34 children admitted for behavioral health crisis in my hospital,” Rush said.
“As my testimony outlines, there remain opportunities, particularly in the space of health and well-being of children.”
Watch the entire Sept. 22 hearing here.