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5/16/22 news article

Dayton Children’s Hospital plans new free-standing pediatric mental health care center

Governor Mike DeWine allocates $25 million in American Rescue Plan funds in support

Governor Mike DeWine joins Dayton Children’s to announce plans for a new freestanding mental health building to expand services and co-locate existing ones. Through the outstanding support of Governor DeWine and local state legislators, Dayton Children’s will receive a $25 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan to support this critical initiative.

the statistics are astonishing

  • 163% increase in children hospitalized for mental health from 2020 to 2021 across the country
  • 51% nationwide increase in emergency department visits for suicide attempts in adolescent girls from 2019-2021
  • 17%/19% of high school/middle school students in a local county have made a plan to attempt suicide, according to a survey done during the pandemic

the need is growing

While children’s mental health concerns were growing rapidly prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 only exacerbated the already untenable situation.

“Behavioral health is the health care crisis of this generation,” says Deborah A. Feldman, president and CEO for Dayton Children’s Hospital. “Dayton Children’s has been racing to keep up with the demand with added services every year, but the need is overwhelming and just continues to grow. We know we must do more. We are fighting for children’s lives.”

Even though Dayton Children’s opened a mental and behavioral health inpatient unit in July 2019, those 24 beds are not enough to care for the growing need. In February, 178 kids stayed in regular medical rooms at Dayton Children’s, waiting for a bed to open up in a behavioral health unit – not just at Dayton Children’s but anywhere nearby. Because those rooms are not designed for the unique needs of a child dealing with a behavioral health issue, those children require a constant attendant to keep them safe.

If it had been a normal winter season, those beds would have been filled with children with RSV, the flu and other typical cold season illnesses, leaving those hundreds of children with behavioral health struggles nowhere to go. The need is only predicted to grow, according to health care analytics and forecasting groups. By 2029, the expected need for pediatric behavioral health inpatient beds is 45-50, approximately double what the need was in 2020.

the impact is heartbreaking

The lack of space is the exact problem that Brian Brun encountered in 2021 when his daughter, Emma, needed a place to heal her mind and spirit after attempting suicide. “My heart is broken for my daughter obviously. But all of a sudden, I'm realizing how huge this problem is. I can't find a bed for my daughter," Brian said. "Hundreds of other fathers are dealing with this exact thing at this moment – feeling helpless to get the care their child needs.”

Emma spent 10 days in an inpatient mental health unit an hour and a half away. It still took months for the light of hope to begin glimmering in Emma’s eyes again as the internal struggles were addressed one by one.  Today Emma and her family are committed to healing publicly so that others don’t suffer silently. As well as sharing their story today, the family is writing a book to help others through the dark times.

Brun said she's in a better place today after months of therapy, medication and self-reflection. She wants to make sure that her story can prompt others to get the help they need with navigating pandemic-related mental health issues.

"My family and I are healing publicly so that others don’t suffer silently,” Emma says. “We realized that this is a message that needs to be told. We are writing a book that can help other people experience the same relief and the joy that came afterward."

help is coming

“With this new building we can keep more of our children closer to home and keep more families together. We will bring together all the services that a child facing a behavioral health crisis will need across the spectrum of their journey,” says Kelly Blankenship. “We can get them the right care for their unique circumstance at the right time.”

Planning for the building is underway now. Groundbreaking is expected in spring 2023. The anticipated opening date is in spring 2025.  Inside it will:

  • Double the number of behavioral health inpatient beds currently available at Dayton Children’s
  • Allow expansion for specialized program development
  • Allow for strengthened and smoother continuity of care by bringing behavioral health inpatient, outpatient and crisis services all under one roof
  • Provide customized outdoor space that is critical to healing
  • Create operational efficiencies and improved communication through cross-trained staff, proximity and access

“Expanding pediatric behavioral health care across the state is essential to meet growing demand. This investment will help Dayton Children’s provide services to more young people across the region and help prevent gaps in care,” said Governor DeWine. “Our goal is to make mental health care more accessible, so our young people can get care where and when they need it, empowering them to live happier, fulfilled lives.”

The American Rescue Plan provides federal dollars for states and cities to allocate in support of the public health response and supports the foundation for a strong and equitable economic recovery from the pandemic.

more is needed

“This is one more step in reinventing the path to children’s health for families in our region and beyond,” says Feldman. “Our new behavioral health strategic plan calls for many more layers to ensure we have the resources for our kids when they need them. We will continue to support the growth of work force in this area, add outpatient therapy services to improve access to care, adopt and apply early intervention techniques to get upstream of the issues and develop new programs for specialized areas of behavioral health support.”

Your support is dearly needed and would be much appreciated. To donate, contact

Deborah Feldman

president and chief executive officer
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