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Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta announces plan for mental health facility

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Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta announces plan for mental health facility

The new Center for Advanced Pediatrics. Photo provided by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Atlanta, GA — Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has announced plans to build a behavioral and mental health treatment facility for children and adolescents.

The announcement comes weeks after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a series called “Children in Crisis” that explores whether kids in crisis in the state could get the medical care they need.

In part of the series, the AJC reported that children who need inpatient care due to a serious mental health diagnosis won’t be able to get treatment at Children’s $1.5 billion new North Druid Hills campus.

“Even as its hospitals have seen dramatic increases in the number of children brought to its ERs with mental health crises, Children’s said it determined through careful study that it wasn’t feasible or even wise to try to build an inpatient psychiatric unit,” the AJC reported.

David and Helen Zalik and their foundation, The Zalik Foundation, announced they will donate about 10 acres of land to construct a building dedicated to pediatric behavioral and mental health.

The land includes two office buildings and is located along the I-85 northbound access road near the Children’s North Druid Hills campus. The transaction is set to close later this year, according to a press release.

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.

“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 Healthcare of Atlanta announced it has fulfilled three strategic pillars of its plan to meet the mental health crisis:

– Funding through a $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 Dr. John Constantino, chief of behavioral and mental health, who joined Children’s in August,

– New facilities on a campus that will accommodate opportunities for growth.

Children’s is launching a comprehensive program that will balance prevention, early intervention and outpatient care.

“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. The new facilities will serve as a venue for active collaboration with community partners, research, teaching and family education.

According to the press release, the appraised value of the property is over $34 million. The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Zalik Behavioral and Mental Health Center will be entirely dedicated to pediatric behavioral and mental health.

The Zalik’s donation will help Children’s build a center that will innovate the way behavioral and mental health care is delivered in the state. The Zalik Center will serve as a central location for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s and community partners to fulfill the hospital’s vision to deliver evidence-based care to kids throughout Georgia.

“With the Zalik’s gift and Children’s deep commitment to impacting the problem, our expanding corps of mental health professionals will have a venue in which to meet the community’s ever-increasing needs for child mental health care, in a space that supports recovery and is conducive to coordinated delivery of the latest innovations in clinical practice,” said Constantino.

Many families are touched by behavioral and mental health issues and the crisis is growing significantly, Helen Zalik said.

“We are humbled by this unique opportunity to provide tzedakah to help Children’s further enhance its standing as a healthcare provider at the forefront of answering the call for help and for it to become a leading model for other children’s hospitals working to address the mental health crisis,” Zalik said.

Since 2019, Children’s Board of Trustees and leadership have been focused on a four-pillar plan to become a leader and partner in building a pediatric behavioral and mental health system to innovate treatments, transform access, pioneer prevention and build a strong foundation for future growth, the press release says. The center will provide a balance of prevention, early intervention and services across a continuum of care, including a comprehensive outpatient treatment program space for meaningful collaboration with community partners, as well as a home for research, teaching and family education.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Zaliks for caring so much about children and making a difference in addressing this crisis,” said Donna Hyland, CEO of Children’s. “This amazing gift will provide an extraordinary resource for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,  Dr. Constantino and his team to tackle this issue.”

Some individuals working in mental health care in the state have questioned why Children’s isn’t doing more in response to the AJC story.

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) co-sponsored the mental health parity legislation that was signed into law earlier this year. For 10 years, she as urged CHOA to expand their mental and behavioral health services.

“There’s no question that CHOA is the state’s premier children’s hospital,” Oliver told the AJC. “They’re going to save the life of your child who may have cancer or a nightmare of a congenital heart defect. And there’s no question that people all over Georgia will bring their very sick child to CHOA.”

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