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Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Announces Major Initiative to Tackle Childhood Mental Health Crisis

ATLANTA–()–Behavioral and mental health issues among children have steadily risen in recent years. One proof point is, visits to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta emergency departments since 2015 have more than doubled, now exceeding 4,000 visits annually with an average patient age of nine. The number continues to rise significantly, in large part because of COVID-19.

It is a crisis that demands focused attention and a major mobilization of resources and strategic approaches to what have proven to be complex, trans-generational public health concerns.

“This is a tremendous challenge against which we are proud to stake a leadership position and are resolute in our determination to effect meaningful, positive change,” said Donna Hyland, Children’s president and chief executive officer. “We hope in addition to enhancing the standard of youth behavioral and mental health in the Southeast, there is the opportunity to create an operational blueprint from which our colleagues across the nation can benefit. In turn, we hope to learn from their successes and expand upon our own best practices.”

In response, Children’s today announced it has fulfilled three strategic pillars of its plan to meet the crisis head on:

  • Funding via a more than $550 million endowment dedicated to providing significant, ongoing support to perpetuate a long-term program of care for children in need,
  • Assembling the best leadership team headed by nationally-renowned child psychiatrist, John Constantino, MD, chief of behavioral and mental health, who joined Children’s in August,
  • New facilities on a campus that will accommodate opportunities for growth.

With its initial objectives achieved, Children’s is launching a comprehensive program that will balance prevention, early intervention and outpatient care based on the best clinical research available and tailored to the needs of each child.

“In dovetailing these services with those available in the community, the goal is to establish a full continuum of care to mitigate risk and support mind, brain, and behavioral development throughout childhood,” Constantino said. “Through proper funding, staffing and facilities – and building on advances in telehealth – our goal is to achieve seamless integration with providers in the nation’s behavioral health ecosystem.”

The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Zalik Behavioral and Mental Health Center will serve as home base for the program. It will be located on a 10-acre tract of land with two office buildings, adjacent to the North Druid Hills campus and bear the surname of benefactors David and Helen Zalik. The new facilities will serve as a venue for active collaboration with community partners, research, teaching and family education.

“Today’s announcement underscores our commitment to building a pediatric behavioral and mental health ecosystem that improves outcomes, reduces stigma, and enhances access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment,” Hyland added.

About Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

As the only freestanding pediatric healthcare system in Georgia, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is the trusted leader in caring for kids. The not-for-profit organization’s mission is to make kids better today and healthier tomorrow through more than 60 pediatric specialties and programs, top healthcare professionals, and leading research and technology. Children’s is one of the largest pediatric clinical care providers in the country, managing more than one million patient visits annually at three hospitals, Marcus Autism Center, the Center for Advanced Pediatrics, urgent care centers and neighborhood locations. Consistently ranked among the top children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has impacted the lives of kids in Georgia, across the United States and around the world for more than 100 years thanks to generous support from the community.

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