Kids need eating-disorder care, too

Eating disorders are the most lethal of all psychiatric illnesses; an American dies nearly every hour as a direct result of one. Children are included in this statistic.

Yet for children and adolescents with severe eating disorders, there is a tragic lack of appropriate services to treat them in Georgia.

None — not one — of Georgia’s existing 300-plus pediatric psychiatric inpatient beds is dedicated solely to treating children who suffer from eating disorders. Existing pediatric psychiatry beds are primarily designated for short-stay treatment of a broad range of general psychiatric problems.

Eating disorders, however, are unique mental illnesses that require unique care.

The treatment of children with severe eating disorders at the psychiatric in-patient level requires a village of skilled specialists. Best-practice care involves specialized child and adolescent psychiatry, pediatric medicine, superlative nursing, dietetic and psychotherapeutic care, and the intensive involvement of families in the recovery process.

Due to the dearth of available and appropriate psychiatric services locally and nationally for pediatric eating-disorder patients, they encounter extreme difficulty accessing appropriate services. At times, these patients require hospitalization just to become medically stable. Once they are medically stable, they sometimes spend days or weeks trying to find placement specifically to treat their disorders.

Those of us on the front lines with Georgia families — pediatricians, psychiatrists, therapists and other health care providers — are left with little choice. We are forced to send our patients out of state for treatment. Or worse, patients who need inpatient care can find themselves in the emergency room’s revolving door.

Here is the reality: While outpatient programs offer viable treatment options for some patients, these programs can be dangerous for those requiring a more intensive level of care. And general psychiatric hospitals are not designed or equipped to deal with these complex illnesses.

In addition to the minimal and inadequate services for girls, boys and transgender patients are doubly underserved, unable to receive even very limited, basic, eating-disorder services at local general psychiatric units designated women-only.

Across the nation, many communities find themselves playing “catch-up” as more children and adolescents need care for potentially life-threatening eating disorders.

Veritas Collaborative has stepped forward to fill the need. Its leaders, national experts in eating disorders, have proposed a 50-bed, pediatric, acute-care psychiatric hospital dedicated to the treatment of eating disorders. This important proposal is currently before the Georgia Department of Community Health, with a decision on approval expected soon.

The facts are clear: Georgia families desperately need inpatient services for pediatric eating-disorder patients. On behalf of Georgia’s many children and families dealing with the most lethal of all psychiatric illnesses, we urge the Department of Community Health to welcome Veritas Collaborative into Georgia’s community of care.

Dr. Anna B. Tanner is a certified eating disorders specialist and partner at Gwinnett Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Judi-Lee Webb is founding president of the Atlanta Chapter of the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals.

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