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Funding Student Research

Luther 'Luke' Kalb, Funding Student Research

Wendy Klag Scholar focuses on gaps in autism research and services.


As a mental health worker at a Baltimore psychiatric hospital for three years, PhD student Luther “Luke” Kalb encountered far too many families struggling to help their children while trapped in a cycle of crisis.

Children admitted for inpatient care were often discharged prematurely because of limits on mental health insurance coverage, says Kalb, who subsequently earned a Master of Health Science degree in Mental Health at the Bloomberg School in 2008.

It wasn’t uncommon, he recalls, for the same children to land in a hospital emergency room soon after discharge—in many cases following a violent episode at home.

“It was heartbreaking seeing families come in and out of the system with no real solutions in hand,” says Kalb, who recently received research funding from the School’s Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. His mission: to better understand the complex factors behind pediatric autism patients using the emergency department for mental health care.

“Most emergency departments are not equipped to provide mental health care. Yet data show more and more people turn to this setting during times of psychiatric crisis,” he says. “I want to help raise awareness of this public health issue.”

The grant makes it possible for Kalb to access a wealth of data from private insurance plans nationwide. He is investigating how federal mental health parity passed in 2008 has affected psychiatric emergency department use among privately insured children with autism.

If parity has led to greater use of traditional mental healthcare services, there should be a decreased need for crisis management in the emergency department, he explains, indicating that the fragmented mental healthcare system serving these children may be improving.

“The Wendy Klag Center has provided us with a way to look at the issue in a much more comprehensive light,” says Kalb. “I don’t think this research could be conducted without this grant.”

—Salma Warshanna-Sparklin

The Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities

Department of Mental Health