girl in blue shirt in doctor's office wearing mask, getting a shot from a medical professional in a black jacket
Photo credit: Navy Medicine Flickr account.

Kennedy Krieger Institute has received a $5 million grant to expand the reach of its pediatric post-COVID-19 clinic, and to support students in low-resource areas.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) delivered the grant to researchers through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) with the goal of expanding access to comprehensive care for children and adolescents with long COVID-19, especially among underserved populations.

The five-year project, called the Pediatric Post-COVID-19 Rehabilitation Clinic, will receive up to $1 million per year to “expand and strengthen its integrative services in Baltimore and the overall mid-Atlantic region,” read the press release announcing the grant. “This expansion will involve developing resources to help school nurses and other healthcare professionals identify long COVID in students, educate community leaders, and create accommodations to help children with long COVID-19 succeed in school, life and their community.”

Researchers at Kennedy Krieger will also launch a project called Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO), which is specifically designed to help underresourced communities where children have long COVID-19.

“ECHO is a model to train community health providers to recognize, diagnose and treat patients with complex diseases who lack access to specialty health care providers in their communities. Kennedy Krieger researchers will assist providers and patients in low-resource areas, including rural locations and among underserved minority populations,” read the press release.

Dr. Laura Malone is co-director of the Institute’s Pediatric Post COVID-19 clinic and principal investigator on this grant. She said the funds will help expand access to medical care.

“Right now, about 150 patients are currently being evaluated by our clinic. Our aim is to increase the reach of our knowledge and care to those that may not be able to travel to see us, or may not need a full, comprehensive treatment plan,” Malone said. “In particular, there are not a lot of clinics out there that serve pediatric patients who have experienced post-acute COVID-19. We are the only pediatric organization to be awarded this AHRQ post-COVID-19 research grant.”

Pediatric symptoms of long COVID — chest pain, fatigue, difficulty exercising, and brain fog — are similar to adult symptoms. It’s harder to identify symptoms in children and teens, however, who aren’t as adept at naming the symptoms and advocating for their own health.

“What we see is that [long COVID] can take a significant effect on the quality of life. Lasting effects not only impact the functioning of the child, but also the family,” Malone said. “Children may not always have the developmental ability to really identify and understand what is happening to them. They may not be able to express their symptoms. There are important developmental aspects to consider as to how long COVID-19 effects their function, social development, and more.”

Malone has helped create national guidelines for practitioners treating children with long COVID, and said between 5% and 25% of U.S. children who have been infected by the SARS-CO-V2 virus have experienced long COVID.

“Comparing that percentage range to the number of children who have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, that’s still a really high number of children that need resources, assistance, and care,” Malone said. “Providing those services and resources is one of the main goals for us to take on with this grant.”

“We are proud to have Dr. Malone and the entire team of highly experienced and innovative specialists recognized by this grant,” said Dr. Stacy Suskauer, vice president of pediatric rehabilitation at Kennedy Krieger and director of the Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “This expansion will allow us to extend our reach to provide rehabilitation to more children who are experiencing prolonged symptoms of long COVID and continue Kennedy Krieger’s commitment to increasing access to exceptional care.”

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