A rendering of the planned Child and Adolescent Mental Health...

A rendering of the planned Child and Adolescent Mental Health Pavilion that will be connected to Cohen Children’s Medical Center. Credit: HDR

Northwell Health unveiled a $500 million plan on Tuesday to address the growing need for mental health services among kids and teens on Long Island and in the region.

Along with expanding behavioral health services, Northwell will construct a 100-bed facility for child and adolescent mental health in New Hyde Park. Northwell is committing $350 million and expects to fundraise for the additional $150 million to pay for the initiative.

“We are in a crisis,” said Dr. Charles Schleien, senior vice president of Pediatric Services at Northwell Health. “The incidents of mental health issues among children and adolescents continues to spiral upward and it accelerated during COVID-19.”

Schleien pointed to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 1 out of 5 children experience a mental disorder in a given year.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Northwell Health plans to build a 100-bed Child and Adolescent Mental Health Pavilion attached to Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.
  • Experts said there is a growing need for mental health services for children and teens across Long Island and in the region.
  • The new pavilion is part of a larger initiative to offer behavioral health services in conjunction with schools, houses of worship and pediatrician offices.

Dr. John Young, chair and senior vice president for psychiatry at Northwell Health and the Zucker School of Medicine, said more kids are dealing with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse and attention deficit disorders.

“We have a mental health system with several big challenges,” Young said. “There are decades upon decades of underinvestment and tremendous stigma within health care and from society at large.”

Julia, whose last name is being withheld at her family's request for privacy reasons, said she always felt anxious but knew she had a larger issue at the age of 12 or 13 when she no longer wanted to go to school or hang out with friends.

“I have never minded school; I loved hanging out with my friends,” the 17-year-old from Nassau County said. “When it started to prevent me from doing that stuff, we realized it needed to be addressed.”

Working with doctors on a course of therapy and medication helped the teen get back on track. She learned different coping skills and methods for preventing anxiety from taking over her daily life.

Julia said she decided to share her own struggle with anxiety to bring awareness for the need for more services and the pavilion.

“I thought that if I feel confident enough to kind of step out and share my story, that it would help others connect to it,” she said.

The new 200,000-square-foot Child and Adolescent Mental Health Pavilion will share an entrance with Cohen Children’s Medical Center, and be located near Zucker Hillside Hospital, which focuses on behavioral health — giving young patients easy access to specialists from the two hospitals. 

In addition, the new pavilion will host outpatient services, such as support groups and other programs. There is no set timeline for construction, but Schleien said they hope to have it built and open within the next three to five years.

“A lot of kids who have severe mental health issues also have physical ailments,” said Schleien. “And a lot of kids who need complex chronic care also have mental health issues.”

Adolescents requiring hospitalization may be experiencing more severe symptoms and need intensive treatment not available on an outpatient basis.

Young said Northwell’s expanding behavioral health services range from digital apps that help adolescents and adults struggling with stress and sleep, to placing therapists in pediatric primary care offices and training school officials to work with clinicians to recognize signs of depression and anxiety.

There is also a pilot plan to place therapists with faith-based groups and provide training for some staff members.

“We want to bring behavioral help to where people are,” he said, “where they work, study, worship.”

In addition, Northwell has worked with local school districts to create three behavioral health urgent care centers for children across Long Island.

“It’s good to hear there are going to be some more adolescent beds,” said Karen Boorshtein, president and CEO of the Family Service League, a Huntington-based nonprofit that provides mental health services. “There aren’t enough on Long Island.

Boorshtein said while there are plenty of therapists, it is often difficult for nonprofits to find psychiatrists who are board certified in child and adolescent psychiatry.

“If Northwell is able to do it, that’s great,” she said. “It’s another piece of the puzzle.”

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