CANTON, Ohio — Stark County families hope a new facility coming to the area will be a lifeline for children and teens experiencing mental health issues. The City of Canton recently green-lit the transfer of a city property to become an outpatient behavioral health center for ages 5-18.
“I think it’s fantastic because it opens up another whole set of providers for the kids around here,” said Stark County mother Ashley Keim.
Keim’s daughter, Taylor Wells, 12, struggled during the pandemic to adjust to remote learning, disrupted activities and limited socialization.
“It was hard. You can just see in the pictures, the sequence of pictures. [She was] this happy, bright little girl. It’s like she lost a light in her eyes, almost,” Keim said. “It’s hard to see that happen with your baby.”
When Keim realized Taylor’s moodiness and loss of interest were more than pre-teen angst, she sought professional help. But it took longer than she anticipated for help to arrive.
“To seek those services—yes, there are people around, but to get in somewhere takes months,” she said.
In December, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory about what he called a “youth mental health crisis.” The report noted that of an estimated eight million American children with treatable mental health disorders in 2021, half did not receive adequate treatment.
“COVID has really created a lot of anxiety for our kids. We’ve taken away some of their routines,” said Joe French, the CEO of Stark County’s Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health.
During the pandemic, the agency saw demand for its services soar by 30%.
“The real problem is the volume that we're seeing, and trying to keep up with,” French said. “That's a significant number of kids. And so we have to do everything we can to meet their needs when they have that need.”
Keim found successful treatment for her daughter, in part, through group therapy and an outpatient at Akron Children’s. She noted the hour drive from the family’s Stark County home to the main Akron campus would not be feasible for others without means.
Improving access to pediatric mental health services has been an ongoing objective for Akron Children’s. Soon, the hospital system will have a hand in transforming the former Cirelli building on 30th Street NW in Canton.
After the city council approved a transfer to the Canton Community Improvement Corporation this week, the Canton-based A. Altman Company will invest $2.9 million for upgrades to the building. Then, Akron Children’s will enter into a long-term lease agreement to use the space as an outpatient behavioral health center for children and teens ages 5-18.
“Our goal is just to bring the resources that are needed to the community, enhance the capacity of the community to serve these kids and not take business away from the community, but really service more kids who are in need,” said Dr. Steven Jewell, the director of Akron Children’s Division of Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology.
Jewell said the new behavioral health center will work closely with local agencies and offer a gamut of services, such as group therapy, intensive outpatient programming and a partial hospitalization program. Providers on location will be able to prescribe and manage medicines for conditions like ADHD, depression and anxiety and pediatric psychologists will provide support to children living with chronic illnesses, like diabetes and cystic fibrosis.
“Our point is to catch those kids that have been falling through the cracks, get them into treatment early, prevent them from getting as sick as they might have before,” Jewell said.
Akron Children’s opened the first of the planned pediatric behavioral health centers on its Mahoning Valley campus in 2019 and is considering other locations in its service area.
The Canton location will likely open by early 2023. Keim hopes the presence of more resources closer to home will encourage more parents to seek help for their children’s mental health.
“Don’t give up on being that advocate for your child because it’s so important that we help them get the help that they need,” she said.
Stark County Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health staffs dozens of schools in the county with counselors available for children. You can also receive a response from the Stark County Mobile Crisis Response by calling 330-452-6000 or text “HELP” to 741-741.
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