Children’s Receives Transformational $10 Million Gift for Behavioral and Mental Health

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Wednesday, March 20th, 2024

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta announced a $10 million gift from Michele and David Hirsch earmarked for behavioral and mental health services. This transformational donation will support the development of a transdisciplinary program that will treat behavioral impairments in children with complex neuropsychiatric conditions.

Under the leadership of John Constantino, MD, Children’s Chief of Behavioral and Mental Health, the program will bring together experts across multiple disciplines to provide the most advanced interventions possible for children with neurologic or medical conditions complicated by severe behavioral impairment, including early signs and symptoms of severe chronic mental health conditions expected to persist into adulthood, or other behavioral conditions resistant to conventional treatment in the community. The clinical team will consist of psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists, behavior analysts, and individual and family therapists. Genetic testing will be incorporated into evaluation, and a discovery arm of the program will engage experts in genetics, neurosurgery, and advanced therapeutics to explore the application of new technologies to medical intervention for selected patients.

“We are deeply grateful to the Hirsch family for their generosity and their commitment to improving the lives of children and youth who struggle with some of the most difficult-to-treat mental health conditions,” said Dr. Constantino.

Once established, the program aims to treat hundreds of patients per year over the next five years. Goals of the program include provision of the following elements of care:

  • Coordinated behavioral intervention for children with joint psychiatric and developmental disorders

  • Psychotherapies tailored to the medical or neurologic conditions causing or complicating a presenting behavioral syndrome

  • Expert psychopharmacology when necessary and appropriate

  • State-of-the-art intervention for obsessive compulsive symptoms, including use of exposure response prevention

  • Intensive family support to reinforce therapeutic and rehabilitative aspects of care

  • Screening for genetic abnormalities for all patients in whom such testing is indicated; for example, many children with cognitive impairments and behavioral disability harbor rare genetic variants that contribute to their condition

  • Exploration of novel circuit-based approaches to intervention in discovery efforts

“Addressing behavioral and mental health issues cannot be solved by a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Michele and David Hirsch. “We look forward to working closely with Dr. John Constantino and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to develop a program specifically earmarked for patients with complex neuropsychiatric conditions.”

In 2019, Children’s Behavioral and Mental Health Clinic at North Druid Hills opened to provide care to patients experiencing anxiety, depression, somatic symptoms, medical adherence, and conduct or behavior challenges. To continue to address the rise in behavioral and mental health needs in Georgia, in fall 2023 Children's opened the Zalik Behavioral and Mental Health Center to provide a balance of prevention and outpatient treatment services, with crisis recovery services. Currently, appointments for behavioral and mental health services are available via internal referrals only.