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Children’s Hospital of Orange County Unveils Action Plan to Tackle Pediatric Mental Health Crisis

by • June 27, 2015 • Health, July 2015

By Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, CHOC Children’s President and CEO

Community leaders and executives from Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC Children’s) recently announced a transformational initiative to ensure children, adolescents and young adults with mental illness get the health care services and support they currently lack in Orange County’s fragmented system of care.

One in five children experience a diagnosable mental health condition during childhood — about 150,000 children in Orange County alone; yet there are no psychiatric inpatient beds for patients younger than 12 and insufficient psychiatric inpatient beds for adolescents in Orange County hospitals. The absence of designated space to treat young patients means that sometimes children with serious mental health episodes remain in the emergency department for days at a time.

We recognize that pediatric mental illness has become a nationwide crisis, and are committed to addressing it. CHOC and our partners are excited by the opportunity to create a scalable model for pediatric mental health care that other communities across the country can replicate.

Children’s advocate Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, managing partner, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, has donated a $5 million lead gift to help establish CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center. The Center will provide a safe, nurturing place for children ages 3 to 18 to receive care for mental health conditions. It will also provide specialty programming for children younger than 12. The third floor of CHOC’s Research Building, located on the west side of the hospital’s main campus, will be extensively remodeled to house 18 beds in a secured, healing environment, and create an outdoor area for recreation. Construction is expected to begin by fall 2015 and finish in late 2017.

Sandy Segerstrom Daniels’ inspiring and generous gift will improve the lives of children battling mental illness and their families by providing the services and support they need.

Daniels’ gift serves as the cornerstone of a broader fundraising campaign by CHOC to raise $11 million for inpatient capital and startup costs, and $16 million to endow the program.

CHOC Children’s and Pastor Rick and Kay Warren, co-founders of Saddleback Church, formed a task force last fall. Led by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Maria Minon and Chief Psychologist Dr. Heather Huszti, and comprised of community leaders, educators and faith-based advisors, the task force is focused on creating a full system of care for children, adolescents and young adults with mental illness. CHOC Children’s and their partners are raising additional funds for enhanced outpatient mental health services in support of the full pediatric system of care.

Along with the new center, the hospital and its task force will work vigorously to educate and bring awareness of the prevalence of pediatric mental health problems, and the importance of early intervention and treatment.

We want to promote honest dialog about children suffering from mental illness, helping to remove the social stigma. By inspiring others to share their stories, we hope to help them to heal and help others on their paths toward recovery and healing.

We know our plans are ambitious, but they are critical and life-saving. The vision begins with establishing a caring home at CHOC Children’s for children and their families to turn to for help.

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