Infectious Disease

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta receives $550M toward mental health

October 27, 2022

3 min read

Source/Disclosures

Disclosures:
Constantino reports receiving royalties from his co-creation of the Social Responsiveness Scale.

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Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has announced its intention to use an endowment of more than $550 million to improve its mental health programs.

According to the hospital, it is their first major step to combat what the AAP and others have warned is a pandemic-related worsening of pediatric mental health that constitutes a national emergency.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has announced its intention to use an endowment of more than $550 million to improve its mental health programs. Source: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

John N Constantino, MD joined Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in June as its chief of behavioral and mental health, and discussed the program’s goals in a Healio interview.

John N Constantino

“The delivery of care for the mental health of children has lagged very far behind what the need is,” Constantino said. “[It also] lags far behind what our own evidence base in the field of child mental health is, and what actually can be done to improve the mental health of children. It’s just not being delivered in any systematic way around the country.”

The endowment is “not just meant for well-resourced children,” Constantino said. “This is for all children across a very large health system that covers metropolitan Atlanta and the rest of the state of Georgia.”

One of the priorities will be to catch issues before they grow into major crises, Constantino said.

“A very large proportion of all mental health expenditures right now are happening on the far end of a mental health condition, years after it starts, with no care before kids hit a point of crisis,” Constantino said. “We have to allocate some major share of a resource for innovation in mental health care toward the front end.”

As such, one part of the program’s portfolio will be prevention and treatment — a strategy that will require outreach in neighboring communities and “arming parents and primary care doctors with information to help children to stay healthy and promote mental health and well-being,” Constantino said.

Still, he noted, the “major aspect” of the next phase will be “more intensive and individualized targeted preventive interventions for whole families” — and that includes caregivers who have an unmet mental health need.

“We have to address that,” Constantino said. “And that’s not something that’s really even thought of by health systems as part of the portfolio of delivering child mental health care. The first thing that you have to do is start making sure that the parents are okay. Many health conditions that children are at risk for are inherently transgenerational — some of them are genetic — so the first thing is to support young families and make sure that at the earliest signs of a mental health condition, children are getting treated and parents are being trained how to handle those situations, and to support their children’s development with the earliest signs.”

The new program will be housed in a soon-to-be-constructed Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Zalik Behavioral and Mental Health Center, which will be built on a 10-acre tract of land adjoining the hospital’s main campus, donated by the Zalik Foundation.

“I’ve been in this field for 30 years now since my own training, and I think it’s important to let other professionals know that this is an opportunity of a generation for the field of child mental health, in the sense that it is a situation where a health system has galvanized a large enough resource to subsidize enough care to literally own the treatment and the full continuum of care for mental health conditions,” Constantino said.

References:

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta announces major initiative to tackle childhood mental health crisis. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20221026005588/en/Children%E2%80%99s-Healthcare-of-Atlanta-Announces-Major-Initiative-to-Tackle-Childhood-Mental-Health-Crisis. Published Oct. 26, 2022. Accessed Oct. 27, 2022.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is taking a monumental step forward in helping children in mental health crises. https://www.choa.org/about-us/newsroom/childrens-takes-step-forward-in-helping-children-in-mental-health-crises. Published Oct. 26, 2022. Accessed Oct. 27, 2022.

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