Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. (Special.)

By MariaSaporta

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s initiative to address the mental health crisis took a major leap forward Wednesday with the announcement that the foundation of David and Helen Zalik will donate 10 acres of land with two large buildings for a new campus.

The property, which is valued at more than $34 million, is located along the I-85 access road near Children’s North Druid Hills campus. The transaction is expected to close later this year.

The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Zalik Behavioral and Mental Health Center will be entirely dedicated to pediatric behavioral and mental health.

Helen and David Zalik (Special: Zalik family.)

David Zalik is co-founder and CEO of the financial technology company GreenSky. The Atlanta-based company has facilitated $16 billion in loans for home improvement projects via a network of banks and 13,000 contractors, according to Forbes Magazine.

“So many families are touched by behavioral and mental health issues — it’s truly something that impacts everyone, and the crisis is growing exponentially,” said Helen Zalik in a statement. “We are humbled by this unique opportunity to provide tzedakah (Hebrew word for philanthropy) to help Children’s further enhance its standing as a healthcare provider at the forefront of answering the call for help and for it to become a leading model for other children’s hospitals working to address the mental health crisis.”

The property donation is just the latest move towards Children’s developing one of the most comprehensive research and treatment programs for kids experiencing behavioral and mental health issues in the United States.

“In 2019, our board approved a strategy, and they also set aside at the time $400 million of the endowment to fund mental behavioral health,” Donna Hyland, Children’s president and CEO, said during a Webex interview on Tuesday. That endowment has now grown to $566 million, and it is generating $28.3 million annually to fund the new initiative.

The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation also gave Children’s a $10 million grant in 2020 to support its efforts in pediatric behavioral and mental health.

Dr. John Constantino and Donna Hyland of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. (Special.)
Dr. John Constantino and Donna Hyland of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. (Special.)

Lastly, two months ago, Children’s brought on nationally renowned child psychiatrist Dr. John N. Constantino as chief of behavioral and mental health, who will develop a best-in-class program to stem the youth mental health crisis.

“We now have this luminary here,” Hyland said, adding that Children’s was able to recruit him from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he had spent his professional career, by offering him an opportunity to create one of the most comprehensive programs for pediatric mental health.

Constantino, who was part of the interview, said there have been significant new innovations that were not getting implemented into routine care and health systems.

“When this opportunity came up, in which Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as a health system, aspires to deliver to its population and is open-minded to implementing real innovations… it became one of the great opportunities of my lifetime,” Constantino said.

Donna Hyland.

Children’s has a four-pillar plan to become a leader in pediatric behavioral and mental health by innovating treatments, transforming access, pioneering prevention and building a strong foundation for future growth.

Since 2015, the annual number of children visiting Children’s emergency departments for behavioral or emotional crises has doubled, currently totaling over 4,000 per year with an average age of 9 years old.

Children’s plans to accelerate response to the mental health needs of children already receiving medical care in its system — 60 percent of whom are on Medicaid — which is reflective of Georgia as a whole.

Hyland and Constantino touted new legislation, championed by Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, passed earlier this year to expand health care services for mental and behavioral health.

Children’s plans to use the existing buildings in the new Zalik campus so it can devote its resources to programs, treatment and research rather than capital expenses.

Dr. John Constantino.

There are no plans to provide inpatient services on the campus. Instead, Children’s is working in collaboration with inpatient programs to provide care before and after hospitalization in a facility.

Constantino said that Children’s stance is “as soon as that episode of inpatient care is finished, we will take that child back into our outpatient realm, and we will make sure that we are the owners of the recovery.”

By delivering outpatient care before and after, Children’s can help make sure there is a greater chance for a full recovery of youth struggling with mental health and even addiction issues.

As Constantino said: “That is the continuum of care that’s going to move the needle on the mental health of the Georgia population.”

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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