Transformational Mental Health Initiative

Transformational Mental Health Initiative

Approximately 150,000 children living in Orange County suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition – yet there are no psychiatric inpatient beds for patients under age 12 in local hospitals, insufficient beds for adolescents and very few outpatient programs. The mental health system itself is fragmented, which is confusing for families trying to find care.

The ramifications are devastating. Without designated space and dedicated outpatient programs to treat these young patients, children with serious mental health episodes can remain in emergency departments for days at a time. And without early, timely and appropriate treatment, children who are anxious, depressed, withdrawn, experiencing hallucinations, harming family members and pets, or injuring themselves are unlikely to make full recoveries. Early intervention, however, can have a remarkable effect on a child’s health and well-being.

"It takes an entire village, in this case Orange County, to create a new system of care."

Where can these children go for help? Currently, there is no coordinated system of care for these children, either nationally or regionally. CHOC Children’s is determined to change that, launching an initiative to transform the delivery of pediatric mental health services.

The effort began in July 2014 when CHOC President and CEO Kim Cripe and Pastor Rick and Kay Warren, co-founders of Saddleback Church, hosted an exploratory luncheon with Orange County leaders. From that beginning, a task force was formed to include key representatives for pediatric mental health from throughout the county. Led by CHOC chief medical officer Dr. Maria Minon and chief psychologist Dr. Heather Huszti, the task force brings together Orange County community leaders, educators and faith-based advisers.

The task force’s extensive work, in collaboration with teams at CHOC, has resulted in the creation of an ambitious and life-saving plan in line with CHOC’s mission to “nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children.”

The plan encompasses outpatient and inpatient services. On the outpatient front, CHOC plans to embed mental health services into its primary and specialty care clinics as well as expand outpatient psychology and psychiatry services.

Inpatient plans include establishing the CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center, designed to provide a safe, nurturing place for children ages 3 to 18. In 2016, the hospital will begin an extensive remodel of the third floor of CHOC’s research building, creating an 18-bed secured environment with an outdoor recreation area. It is projected to open in late 2017.

Making this inpatient center a reality requires vision and passion, and both traits describe children’s advocate Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, managing partner, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, who donated a $5 million lead gift in May 2015 to launch this project. “I had my own issues growing up. I think that we all have had struggles. But I was blessed to be able work through mine. That is not the case with most,” Sandy said. “When I heard what CHOC was doing to address the drastic lack of services available for kids and families battling depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness, I knew that I had to help.”

CHOC’s plans also call for enhancing outpatient mental health services throughout Orange County, developing enhanced communication systems among providers, training medical personnel to identify and manage care for young people with mental health needs, and supporting research to improve early identification of children with mental health disorders.

“It takes an entire village, in this case Orange County, to create a new system of care,” says Dr. Huszti. “It’s been a daunting undertaking, with some challenges along the way, but it is so needed and so important for the families of our community. We hope that it will one day serve as a national model for pediatric mental health service delivery.”

Mental Health unit lobby

A child’s mental health is just as important as his or her physical health. For the one out of every five children who has a mental health condition, early intervention is key – and yet pediatric treatment is hard to find. CHOC has launched an ambitious effort to change that, with plans to drastically expand services and build the new CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center, set to open in late 2017.