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CHOC Gives Hope for Childhood Mental Health in Orange County

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The numbers regarding mental health conditions amongst children are staggering. Studies show one in five children experiences a diagnosable mental health condition over the course of their childhood, a metric that extrapolates to 150,000 Orange County kids. Even more startling is how woefully insufficient proper treatment for these conditions has traditionally been. For example, inpatient beds for mental health patients younger than 12 currently do not exist in Orange County. It is an issue that partially stems from the notion that childhood mental health conditions are something that is acknowledged but seldom discussed, leading to a lack of knowledge of all that is actually needed.

It is also an issue that CHOC Children’s in Orange is tackling head-on, thanks to an ambitious initiative that was unveiled on Wednesday, May 20th. The core of the initiative is to not only provide sufficient means of care for children with mental health conditions, but also to promote dialogue about the importance of providing proper treatment for these kids from both a short-term and a long-term perspective.

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“Treating childhood mental health conditions is not just a healthcare issue, it is also a societal issue,” explained Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, President and CEO of CHOC Children’s. “What we are doing here is creating an initiative that is scalable and replicable, so we can take its concept of fully pediatric care and share it through as much communication as possible.”

There is a lot for them to share. The cornerstone of the initiative is the creation of the Children’s Mental Health Impatient Center; an on-site safe haven that provide a nurturing environment for children ages 3 to 18 that are in need of care for mental health conditions. The center, which will be located on the third floor of CHOC Children’s research building in Orange, will be home to 18 beds, thus making CHOC Children’s the only hospital in Orange County with inpatient beds for patients younger than 12. There will also be a specially built outdoor recreation center for patients to enjoy.

Another key element to this initiative is the formation of a special task force charged with spreading the word about the importance of mental health care on a childhood level. Formed by Pastor Rick and Kay Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and spearheaded by CHOC Children’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Maria Minon and Chief Psychologist Dr. Heather Huszti, this task force works with community leaders in all facets of society to create open dialogue on this crucial issue. The ultimate goal behind the task force’s raising of awareness is to create a full system of proper treatment for children, teens, and young adults diagnosed with mental illness. “We have stayed silent for far too long. It’s time to stand up and make a difference,” stated Huszti. “And we are so gratified to see how people have stepped up and become committed to this important cause.”

The means to achieve this goal is already off to a tremendous start. C.J. Segerstrom & Sons managing partner Sandy Segerstrom-Daniels has provided CHOC Children’s with a $5 million lead gift in order to help establish the center, which is scheduled to begin construction in the fall of 2015 with a slated completion date of late 2017. The donation provides CHOC Children’s with the groundwork to build a broader fundraising campaign; one whose goal is to raise $11 million for inpatient capital and startup costs and $16 million to endow the program.

And while these funds are being raised and the center is being built, it’s important to keep the conversation about treating childhood mental health going. It’s an issue that is far too large for society to remain mute.

Rich Manning is a freelance writer that has been covering Orange County’s food, wine, and lifestyle scene for ten years. He currently lives in Fountain Valley with his wife, two daughters, and two dogs.
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