Children Mercy’s Hospital is investing $150 million for new pediatric mental health initiative

Children’s Mercy says as many as 50% of the children and teens who need mental health help in Kansas City aren’t getting it.

Image by: Joao Rafael


Children’s Mercy said it sees roughly 24 children in it’s emergency rooms every day for a mental health crisis. The health system also said it assessed almost 3,000 children and teens last year for a mental health need.

In April, the U.S. Surgeon General called the decline of youth mental health “the crisis of our time.”

That’s why Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics is investing $150 million into a new pediatric mental health initiative. $50 million came from one donation, from the Sunderland Foundation. Roughly $70 million comes from public and private funds.

“Right now we offer wonderful services,” explained Dr. Sarah Soden, the division director of Developmental and Behavioral Health at Children’s Mercy Hospitals. “We know how to help kids. W e have amazing providers and amazing therapists and doctors. We just need to do much more of it and we need to do it in a ver strategic way, so that we are constantly finding ways that we can take the staff we have, add to it, but develop more programs that will help may more children in an efficient way.”

“Our youth need and deserve good, easy to access, quality mental health care,” said Soden. “It will be transformative to our community.”

Called Illuminate, it aims to address mental health from four different angles over the next five years.

1. Early Interventions. It will integrate mental health into both doctor’s offices and school settings, and expand social work service to help families access behavioral health interventions.

2. Specialty Services. Children with certain diagnoses – like ADHD, autism, eating disorders, or heart conditions, are more likely to have mental health issues. This aims to increase patient access to clinics, offer intensive out-patient services, and faster diagnosis – thereby getting children and teens faster treatment.

3. Invest in Research for new drugs and therapies.

4. Expand Inpatient Hospital Care. Increase the number of child and adolescent beds within a 45 mile radius of Kansas City, provide a partial hospital program, and create a unit for patients with complex medical and psychiatric needs.

Children’s Mercy says as many as 50% of the children and teens who need mental health help in Kansas City aren’t getting it.

“If we had half the children in Kansas City that had an infection and weren’t getting antibiotics,” explained Dr. Sarah Soden, “we would have a crisis of infections. You can’t have half the youth not getting treatment, and expect anything different.”

Hundreds of people filled the Big Slick Auditorium on Thursday for the announcement; many had stories of children struggling with mental health challenges.

CMH Nurse Heather Scruton was one of them. Her son Adam committed suicide days before he turned 22. “When he was younger, we struggled to find help when we needed it. It took a lot of time, this system is very hard to navigate.”

She described much of the challenges being the healthcare system. “The road blocks were really the availability of resources. They weren’t there. We still struggle with that, because the need is greater and we’ve got to meet that need.”

Scruton continued, “we need to stop talking as though mental health illnesses are less than, or less of a priority. Depression and anxiety kill, just like other childhood diseases. And these are diseases. So we can’t sweep them under the rug because we feel comfortable talking about them or because we think they’re somehow not as valid as other physical diseases.”

She added, “it’s so important to us that another family, another mama does not go through what we went through. And it won’t just be another family, or their mama. It will be thousands. But even if it was just one family and one mother, it would be worth it.”

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