A Community Solution to the Pediatric Behavioral Health Crisis

Article written by Heide Rollings, MD, Medical Director for the future Pine Rest Pediatric Center of Behavioral Health.

We are battling a behavioral health crisis. Unfortunately, treatment is out of reach for far too many families whose children desperately requiring behavioral healthcare. In short, the need for care has skyrocketed and the number of specialized providers simply hasn’t kept pace. Even where specialized care exists, wait times can be weeks or even months.

As evidence of this, youth suicide rates have surged 57.4% nationwide over the past 10 years. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

With limited access to specialized care, desperate families of children with acute psychiatric illness turn to hospital emergency departments where the children are boarded – in the worst cases, for months at a time – while they await placement in an appropriate program or facility.

Small town and rural residents are forced to travel long distances to get their children the care they need, adding to the cost, lost time at work, complexity and emotional strain. Highly specialized care is even harder to find and may require a weeks-long out-of-town inpatient stay at a large medical facility.

Then factor in the challenge of navigating referral networks and insurance reimbursement requirements, and the path to treatment quickly turns into a complex maze.

In the meantime, kids are struggling. Delays add to their problems as their symptoms become more acute. They may miss school, pull back from social activities, and feel increasingly isolated.

At the same time, their parents continue to live their pain.

What does this mean for you, as an employer?

To put it bluntly, it probably means lower performance and productivity, even from your most skilled and committed employees. The pain and strain of watching their child struggle with untreated or under-treated mental illness will undoubtedly take its toll physically, mentally and emotionally, and a weeks-long out-of-town inpatient treatment plan means a weeks-long leave from work for mom, dad or both.

Certainly, this is a crisis caused by both growing needs and lack of access to qualified care. But it’s also a crisis of will and resolve.

Finding the will and resolve to solve the problem

Our community can solve this crisis if it has the will to find solutions and the resolve to carry them through.

Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services has both. As the state’s largest behavioral healthcare provider, we already offer expansive services for youth here in our community and across Michigan. Over the last three years, Pine Rest has provided services to 24,588 children and adolescents from 77 of Michigan’s 83 counties. But we know we need to do more.

That’s why, in partnership with Corewell Health, we are leading development of the Pine Rest Pediatric Center of Behavioral Health, planned to open on our suburban Grand Rapids campus in 2026.

This premiere pediatric behavioral healthcare center will expand access to inpatient care from 1,200 to over 2,000 high-acuity, developmentally disabled and pediatric co-occurring (mental illness/substance use) disorder patients per year. We’ll also have the capacity to serve 21,000 children annually through outpatient services – impacting 10,000 more children and families than at present.

New and expanded hospitalization services include an expanded child and adolescent partial hospitalization program (day program). The pediatric center will feature 66 new inpatient beds across three, 22-bed units, serving:

  • Young children
  • A unit dedicated to serving youth with autism spectrum disorders
  • Adolescents
  • Areas of the unit dedicated to higher acuity struggles

Expanded outpatient services include:

  • A pediatric psychiatric urgent care center – the first in Michigan
  • Telepsychiatry to reach more patients in rural areas
  • New specialty clinics to support patients with autism spectrum disorders, eating disorders and/or substance use disorders.
  • Psychological assessment for autism spectrum disorder

Combined, these new and expanded services will improve emergency department boarding of pediatric psychiatric patients in West Michigan, reduce wait times for all pediatric behavioral health services for patients throughout Michigan and allow the children and families of our community to access the vital, specialized behavioral healthcare they need – here at home – for generations to come.

Learn more about the Pine Rest Pediatric Center of Behavioral Health at pinerest.org/pediatric-center.

This editorial was first published in the Grand Rapids Chamber blog on September 22, 2023

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