KC’s Children’s Mercy aims to tackle the youth mental health crisis with a $150 million initiative

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Nearly half of Kansas City area children needing mental health services aren’t getting the help they need, but Children’s Mercy is aiming to change that.

The children’s hospital recently unveiled an ambitious $150 million five-year plan, called Illuminate, that will focus on four areas to increase mental health access for the under-eighteen-year-old crowd. The intention is to help at least eighty thousand area children, hospital officials say.

“Mental health needs have continued to rise at an alarming rate, and parents and families are feeling the absence of a full continuum of care,” says Paul Kempinski, president and CEO of Children’s Mercy. 

According to Children’s Mercy, fifteen million children under eighteen years old are in need of mental health services across the nation, yet thirty to fifty percent of patients aren’t receiving it. In the greater Kansas City area, that number is even higher, closer to forty to fifty percent. 

Over the next five years, Children’s Mercy’s Illuminate initiative will use what it calls a series of “strategies and projects” to address the pediatric mental health care crisis. The initiative is focused on four areas to increase mental health care access: facilitating early intervention, increasing special services, expanding inpatient hospital care and funding new research. Illuminate plans to provide specialized care for everything from anxiety, depression and eating disorders to ADHD and autism. 

These services are needed now more than ever, especially in the midwest. According to Mental Health America, “Missouri faces the largest shortage of behavioral health care providers in the U.S. In Kansas, 101 of 105 counties are also designated Mental Health Professional Shortage areas.” Children’s Mercy wants to create a collaboration between health care providers, schools and community leaders to make this initiative possible. 

So far, Children’s Mercy has raised $70 million to fund the initiative from a combination of state and private funding, with the bulk of the pot coming from a $50 million donation from the Sunderland Foundation. “We are honored to be a part of this ambitious vision to address our youth mental health crisis,” says Kent Sunderland, the foundation’s chairman. 

A large part of the plan is creating more inpatient mental health care for youth and adults alike. In late June, Children’s Mercy announced plans for a new Mental Wellness Campus set to open in 2024. The goal of the new $53 million campus is to make strides in expanding inpatient mental health care for youth and adults alike. The Olathe facility is a joint venture between KVC Health Systems Inc. and Children’s Mercy. KVC’s subsidiary, Camber Mental Health, which currently operates three mental health facilities, will work with Children’s Mercy to run the hospital.

“A lack of psychiatric beds has been one of the largest barriers to providing mental health care in our state,” says Kansas Governor Laura Kelly. “When completed, this state-of-the-art hospital will take significant pressure off our health care systems.”

In addition to the Mental Wellness Campus, Children’s Mercy has already expanded its eating disorders clinic and opened a new clinic for depression and anxiety. 

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