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Gift Will Expand Access to Pediatric Mental Health Care

January 24, 2020

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Members of the Pritzker-Pucker family with Dr. John T. Walkup (far right) at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Pritzker Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Lurie Children’s.

A recent $15 million gift to Lurie Children’s from the Pritzker Foundation will fund a major hospital initiative to address the critical shortage of pediatric mental health care providers and the acute lack of access to these services for children and adolescents in Illinois. The gift – which is part of Lurie Children’s campaign for every child – will enable John T. Walkup, MD, Head of the newly-named Pritzker Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, to invest in new and transformational models of care for the delivery of mental health services.

“Almost 20 percent of children in Illinois have a mental health problem before graduating from high school, and only half have been in treatment,” says Dr. Walkup. “One way to meet this need is for mental health providers to train their pediatric colleagues to identify and treat children with common mental health conditions, such as ADHD, anxiety and depression, as part of primary care. This way we can intervene early in life before these children develop more severe problems.”

“The prevention, identification and treatment of mental illness is a critical component of good pediatric care, but the demand for services has always outstripped the supply of trained care providers,” says Thomas Shanley, MD, President & CEO of Lurie Children’s. “We believe the new model of care outlined by Dr. Walkup promises to be more effective in meeting the needs of Chicago’s children.”

Dr. Walkup and his colleagues are working closely with Lurie Children’s specialists, advanced practice professionals, hospital staff and medical trainees to screen, diagnose and treat behavioral health issues.

His program makes behavioral health a part of every patient’s assessment and care.

“We are excited by Dr. Walkup’s approach to the growing demand for these services, and we see this as an opportunity for Lurie Children’s to develop a best-in-class program,” says Michael Pucker, spokesperson for the Pritzker Foundation and a member of the Lurie Children’s medical center board. “We are hopeful that our gift will have a life-altering impact in the field of pediatric behavioral healthcare.”

The Pritzker Foundation gift also supports the recruitment of additional faculty, helps increase the quality of training programs for residents and fellows and provides much-needed funding for behavioral health research.

“Across the country, there is a huge shortage of pediatric mental health providers,” says Dr. Walkup. “According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, there are only 8,300 child psychiatrists and 15 million children who need services. With our current resources, we will never be able to treat all the kids who need us. This gift allows us to ‘work smart’ and to reach more kids.”

Dr. Walkup is the Margaret C. Osterman Professor in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.