Children’s Wisconsin identifies $150 million need for mental health efforts


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Children’s Wisconsin has identified seven initiatives that it could implement in the next five years to help address the growing mental and behavioral health crisis facing Wisconsin kids. The initiatives would need an estimated $150 million to be fully realized.

“We know our community looks to us to do what is best for kids. Children’s Wisconsin has more than two million touch points with kids across the state each year. We believe this plan identifies how Children’s Wisconsin can impact a significant number of kids in the state,” said Peggy Troy, president and CEO of Children’s Wisconsin. “Mental health is something we as a community must address — without it, we are not fulfilling our commitment to improve the health of Wisconsin’s kids.”

The initiatives identified by Children’s Wisconsin are designed to detect mental and behavioral health needs sooner, improve access to services, and reduce the stigma around the illness. They are: 

  1. Universal screening for mental health
    Expanding screening for depression and anxiety throughout the health system, regardless of the reason for the visit.

  2. Early childhood mental health
    Creating a hub to anchor and coordinate the work of multiple specialists and programs providing early childhood mental health.

  3. School-based mental and behavioral health
    Expanding school-based programs throughout Wisconsin.

  4. Integrated mental and behavioral health
    Offering integrated mental and behavioral health services in the primary care offices and specialty clinics.

  5. Therapist fellowship program
    Providing a stipend to master’s-level therapists to decrease the amount of time to earn their license.

  6. Urgent and emergent mental health
    Offering a dedicated, fully-staffed pediatric psychiatric assessment team and space in the Children’s Wisconsin Emergency Department.

  7. Partnerships with inpatient and residential care providers
    Improving inpatient residential access and service through Children’s Wisconsin support of other health systems.


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Fundraising has already begun

Generous donors have already stepped forward to support some of the initiatives.

  • $5 million from Kohl’s, previously announced in March, which supports system-wide screening, school-based programs and overall mental health awareness efforts.

  • $1 million from Rexnord Foundation, generously provided to be used in any of the seven tactics.

  • $1 million from Boldt Corporation, used to partially fund the Therapist Fellowship Program. The first cohort of therapists started this fall.

“These efforts are not possible without this generous community coming together,” said Meg Brzyski Nelson, president of the Children’s Wisconsin Foundation. “We are so grateful for those who have stepped up to get some of these initiatives underway. The ability to identify additional donors, volunteers and advocates will allow us to implement all these critical programs for our kids.”

READ MORE: We are now Children's Wisconsin

In addition to philanthropic support, other funding sources will be necessary to complete the $150 million plan. Funds will also need to come from patient revenue from expanded programs, state and federal resources, contracts and partnerships, and direct investments by Children’s Wisconsin.

Community support key to successful programs

Children’s Wisconsin school-based mental health programs are already underway in more than 40 schools across the state. The Children’s Wisconsin partnership with Racine Unified School District demonstrates just one example of the community support that is necessary for these programs to succeed. In Racine, Children’s Wisconsin school-based mental health program is paid for by the school district, who in turn has received funding from several local organizations over the years to defer some of the cost. Past funders have included The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, United Way of Racine County and the Racine Community Foundation.

The philanthropic support doesn’t fully cover the cost of providing a therapist. Some of the additional expense of these services has been covered by recent increases in state budgets to start these programs. Funding for school-based mental health grants started under former Gov. Walker and was increased by Gov. Evers and the legislature in the most recent state budget. Conversations need to continue with commercial insurance companies and Medicaid over sustainable payments for these services to ensure that kids and families have access to these services long-term.

“Meeting the mental health needs in the community is going to be multifaceted,” says Amy Herbst, vice president of mental and behavioral health at Children’s Wisconsin. “We must enhance and build off of the improvements other organizations are doing, while developing partnerships and models that allow us to sustain these efforts for years to come.”

The need is great

The need for mental health services is increasing, as reported by the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health. In the group’s 2017 annual report, kids and teens in Wisconsin are hospitalized for a mental health condition at more than four times the national rate. At the same time, Wisconsin’s youth suicide rate increased more than the national rate from 2015 to 2016, and remains significantly higher than most of the United States.

Driven by the vision that Wisconsin kids will be the healthiest in the nation, Children’s Wisconsin is committed to providing better mental and behavioral health services. Children’s Wisconsin already treats thousands of kids with mental and behavioral health challenges every year through programs at primary care and specialty clinics, hospitals in Milwaukee and Neenah, and in schools and communities throughout the state.

“While the plan is still being created for how to implement these projects, the facts and statistics compelled us to share what we think the need is,” said Troy. “I have always been impressed at how this community and state has rallied to help kids, and my hope is this plan helps to advance conversations with partners in the community to further improve how we are all addressing mental health.” 


To learn more about this ambitious and necessary plan, read this story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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