Cincy Children’s receives $15M gift to improve mental health services for young people

A $15 million gift from a local family aims to help Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center make transformational strides in efforts to address mental health issues facing young people across the United States.

The funds came from the James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Foundation. Cincinnati Children’s – the national leader in pediatric mental health care and research – plans to put the money toward its new Mental and Behavioral Health Institute.

The institute is an important tool for the health network as it looks to accelerate and increase its work to address what Dr. Steve Davis, Cincinnati Children’s president and CEO, called a growing crisis facing America’s youth.

He noted that children and teens are struggling “like never before,” and there’s an “unprecedented need” for anxiety and depression care.

“We are witnessing a heartbreaking surge in youth suicide,” Davis added. 

“We stand committed to addressing this country’s mental health challenges, from expanding access to care to conducting vital research that will improve outcomes,” he continued. “The generous gift from The James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Foundation provides critical resources for achieving this mission, together.” 

The Gardner Family Foundation provides financial support to institutions focused on serving the community in variety of ways. Funding areas include health care and education as well as faith-based, environmental and arts initiatives. The Cincinnati-based foundation also supports projects focused on providing opportunities for people facing economic and social disadvantages.

In announcing its most recent gift, the Gardner Family Foundation announced its desire to accelerate the work Cincinnati Children’s has been doing in the field of child and adolescent mental health for the past two decades.

Cincinnati Children’s formally announced the receipt of the gift on Saturday, Oct. 7, during the Kaleidoscope concert at the Aronoff Center featuring Kristin Chenoweth. The annual event raised more than $1.25 million in additional money to benefit Cincinnati Children’s mental health treatment and prevention programs.

“We know that the need is more apparent than ever and that the establishment of the [institute] will have an immediate effect and lasting impact upon the children in our community and their families,” said Ellie Johns, a foundation trustee. “From expanding access to behavioral health providers in primary care settings to creating a family navigation system, the institute is focused on the ultimate goal of freeing children from mental illness.”

Jim and Joan Gardner

One of the primary goals of Cincinnati Children’s new institute is improving access to quality mental health care and implementing early interventions.

“Cincinnati Children’s is a proven leader in integrated mental and behavioral health care, and it is our hope that the success and learnings of the [Institute] will be modeled globally, impacting children and families far beyond our local community,” Johns added.

Enhancing medical care, improving young lives

Children and adolescents across the country are struggling with unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety, emotional dysregulation, traumatic stress and other serious ailments, per Cincinnati Children’s.

The health network provided data showing that 53% of parents say they’re concerned about the mental state of their children. 

Unaddressed, these conditions can lead to disrupted school performance, social isolation, self-harm and even suicide, according to Dr. Tina Cheng, director of the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation and chair of the department of pediatrics.

Yet, Cheng said there are many gaps and shortfalls between the availability of mental health services for children and teens compared to other forms of health care.

Dr. Tina Cheng

The goal of the new Mental and Behavioral Health Institute is to provide what Cincinnati Children’s refers to as a “streamlined organizational structure to coordinate all current and new initiatives, projects and collaborations addressing mental and behavioral health.”

Among the new institute’s top priorities are reducing school absences for mental health issues and decreasing the number of emergency visits and hospitalization rates for mental health. However, they also want to ensure every child has access to appropriate care when they need it. 

They want to work toward eliminating youth suicide across the Greater Cincinnati region.

To accomplish the goal, Cincinnati Children’s plans to fully integrate mental health care with other medical care services. This includes embedding more mental health professionals in primary care clinics and expanding mental and behavioral health training for pediatric clinicians across the Cincinnati region. They’ll also focus on building a network of family navigators and school liaisons to help connect patients with resources.

Cincinnati Children’s has a state-of-the-art care center opening later this month at its College Hill campus. 

Cheng, who’s also chief medical officer for the Cincinnati Children’s health system, believes the Mental and Behavioral Health Institute will become a model and a resource that other health networks can turn to as they address the challenges facing their respective communities.  

“We believe that health care has work to do to integrate mental and behavioral health into all medical care and to assure that all children have equitable access to the care they need and deserve,” she added. 

Cheng called the gift from the Gardner Family Foundation as marking the “beginning of this important mission.”

Cincinnati Children’s has launched a national search for the institute’s inaugural director.

“We have much work to do, but we cannot solve the mental health crisis alone,” Cheng said.

“We value and need our ongoing partnerships with community organizations, schools and donors,” she added. “In fact, we will need the support of the entire community to achieve these goals.”   

Cincinnati Children’s Mental and Behavioral Health Institute


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