Padilla, Cárdenas Introduce Legislation to Bolster Children’s Health Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, at the start of Mental Health Awareness Month, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.-29) introduced the Pediatric Access to Critical Healthcare (PATCH) Act to support and bolster vital pediatric health care infrastructure.

As children’s hospitals struggle to maintain financial solvency, combat the ongoing national children’s mental health crisis, and address workforce shortages, pediatric centers across the country remain in desperate need of support. The PATCH Act would strengthen the safety net for children and adolescents, providing $6 billion over 10 years in dedicated funding for national pediatric preparedness response investments.

“Pediatric hospitals are overextended and understaffed,” said Senator Padilla. “Our children’s hospitals cannot continue to function without our support, especially amid a national children’s mental health crisis. That’s why I’m introducing the PATCH Act to allocate the necessary resources to help expand the capacity of our pediatric hospitals and secure lifesaving care for our most vulnerable children.”

“Our pediatric health care system is facing critical and unique challenges — from experiencing increased patient caseloads, dealing with a depleted workforce, to urgently needing a modernization of its digital health infrastructure — that require us to act decisively and swiftly,” said Representative Cárdenas. “The PATCH Act is a common-sense legislative solution that will deliver much needed relief and help ensure pediatric hospitals continue to meet the needs of every American family.”

“Investing in the pediatric safety net is essential to expanding our pediatric health care infrastructure and ensuring that all children have access to the care they need. On behalf of our children’s hospitals, we thank Senator Alex Padilla and Representative Tony Cárdenas for their leadership in reintroducing the PATCH Act. This critical legislation would help bolster the national pediatric care system by providing dedicated funding over the next decade to ensure pediatric providers have the resources to take care of America’s children. We are committed to collaborating with Senator Padilla, Representative Cárdenas, and other policymakers to drive this essential legislation forward,” said Matt Cook, CEO, Children’s Hospital Association.

“As a leading children’s hospital in California and the U.S., we applaud the reintroduction of this legislation, which is crucial to the health and wellbeing of children everywhere,” said Paul S. Viviano, President and CEO of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “This bill would provide vital resources that would allow children’s hospitals to expand critical care capacity to treat the sickest and most vulnerable in our community with the specialized pediatric care that they need and deserve.”

Investments through the PATCH Act would deliver desperately needed support to build pediatric health care capacity, particularly among providers serving low-income communities, including by:

  • Strengthening the workforce through specialized training to care for infants and young children. The equipment, drug dosing, procedural preparation, and patient/family communications used for pediatric care are all very different from the care of adult patients.
  • Supporting telehealth technology and cybersecurity. The pandemic highlighted the importance of strong digital health infrastructure, including access to adequate, affordable broadband connectivity, as well as support for telehealth infrastructure.
  • Bolstering critical care capacity by investing dedicated funds, combined with matching requirements, to facilitate the replacement or addition of up to 4,000 beds nationwide. Financial strain on children’s hospitals from the pandemic has weakened the pediatric health care system, threatening health outcomes for millions of children and families.

Funds may be used for expanding pediatric critical care infrastructure, enhancing pediatric emergency preparedness, upgrading digital health infrastructure, protecting against cyber threats, and expanding access by building additional patient care capacity. Matching requirements supporting contributions from the private sector could double the impact of this federal investment, greatly increasing pediatric health care capacity for all children across the country.

As children’s hospitals try to maintain pre-pandemic staffing levels, labor costs have nearly doubled since 2019 with turnover rates remaining 10 percent higher than pre-pandemic rates. Clinical complexity has also continued to increase, with an overall 45.5 percent relative increase in hospitalizations with chronic complex conditions and a 78.0 percent increase in mental health diagnoses.

The PATCH Act is cosponsored by Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Representatives Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.-44), Judy Chu (D-Calif.-28), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.-12), Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.-25), Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.-10), and David Trone (D-Md.-06).

Senator Padilla has been a strong advocate for combating the children’s mental health crisis and expanding mental health care access, especially in underserved communities. In October 2023, Padilla and Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) announced the launch of the bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus to serve as a forum for Senators to collaborate on and promote bipartisan legislation and solutions, hold events to raise awareness of critical mental health issues, and destigmatize mental health. Earlier this year, Padilla and Tillis joined Crisis Text Line to talk about how the Caucus is working to provide better resources in schools and ensure no child is suffering in silence. Padilla, Tillis, and Cárdenas announced a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal to improve the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which contains provisions from the lawmakers’ Local 9-8-8 Response Act of 2023 to expedite the process of connecting 9-8-8 Lifeline callers with their nearest call center so they can receive appropriate care and resources. Last year, Padilla also introduced a trio of bills to address the unique mental health needs of military childrenLatinos, and farm workers.

A one-pager of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.

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