$5M gift to Dayton Children’s paves way for kids mental health program

The donation by The Connor Group Kids & Community Partners the second largest in the hospital’s history.

Dayton Children’s Hospital is starting a new model to integrate behavioral health care into the pediatrician visit, launched with the help of a $5 million donation from a local real estate firm’s nonprofit arm.

The hospital said the new program could become a national model for preventing mental health crises.

It will be administered at the newly renamed Connor Child Health Pavilion on the east edge of Dayton Children’s main campus, renamed because the project was made possible through one of the largest gifts in Dayton Children’s history, which is a $5 million, five-year initial investment from The Connor Group Kids & Community Partners

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Dayton Children’s will raise $3 million in matching funds to implement the plan over the next five years. Connor Group officials, who have been working on the deal with Dayton Children’s for 18 months, could renew the partnership at the end of five years.

The program will provide counseling, psychology and psychiatric services to an estimated 4,000 children during well-child visits, intensive outpatient therapy to an additional 1,400 children, as well as parent education and community-based resources to more than 5,000 families.

“We’ve looked all over the country and we haven’t seen a model like this, one that provides this continuum of care,” Dr. Jonathan Thackeray, chief medical officer of population health at Dayton Children’s, said. “We hope this becomes the national standard for providing the very best care for children to position them for lifelong success.”

At an online press event announcing the program, Thackeray said children and families deal every day with intertwined physical health and behavioral health and social needs, which impact each other.

“And in our traditional model of focusing solely on clinical care, we weren’t getting it right. Those poor outcomes just won’t improve under that traditional model. So we need to bring a team of professionals together to address all of the issues that keep a child and their family from achieving optimal health,” Thackeray said.

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The goal of the new model is to shift that type of care. Instead of waiting for a child to experience a mental health crisis, providers will work to identify health needs early with the regular child well visit.

He said they are going to work to identifying concerns much earlier in life and will be helping parents deal with normal parenting issues so concerns like anxiety and depression don’t continue to progress to a crisis.

The program also establishes a psychology fellowship program and research project.

“By developing what’s going to be a center of excellence, we’ll be creating an innovative model that will train the next generation of mental health care providers,” Thackeray said.

Over the last six years, behavioral health needs have climbed at Dayton Children’s and Debbie Feldman, CEO of Dayton Children’s said they have seen a 300% increase in the number of kids entering their doors because parents are afraid they are going to harm themselves or someone else. Suicide also is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 24.

In the face of growing demand, the hospital has a new inpatient unit for behavioral health care, and a regional behavioral crisis center next to the main campus emergency department to assess kids in a behavioral health crisis.

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Many children are dealing with adult issues at a young age, with negative social media effects, and also more children are having issues identified, said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services.

“It’s important to think about how times have changed for young people. They’re exposed to so much more. They have more to worry about. They see things on television, and the big thing we can do is talk to them and let them know what’s going on and reassure them that it’s going to be OK,” she said.

Miami Twp.-based The Connor Group, which owns a portfolio of upscale apartments around the U.S., has made several high profile donations in recent years. This includes $100,000 toward the Oregon District mass shooting victims fund and lending a private airplane to various relief efforts needing help transporting people and supplies.

“We don’t look at this as a donation or gift. It’s an investment in Dayton and the future of our community," said Mike McQuiston, The Connor Group partner and a member of the hospital’s board.

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