‘Mental health is truly the health crisis of this generation;’ Dayton Children’s begins construction on $110M building

New facility will double the number of behavioral health beds available.

Dayton Children’s Hospital is continuing to expand on its Valley Street campus in Dayton, signaling the start of its construction process Monday on its $110 million behavioral health building.

“Mental health is truly the health crisis of this generation,” said Deborah Feldman, president and CEO Dayton Children’s Hospital, during a groundbreaking ceremony with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine attending. “We’ve been working for almost 11 years now trying to add services, plug the holes in the pediatric mental health landscape, and yet there are still gaps.”

The hospital’s behavioral health building was announced last May and will double the available space for behavioral health patients by 2025. The building is receiving a $25 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan, as well as $2 million donation from CareSource. The project also will continue to transform a hospital campus that has seen more than $375 million in new investment in the last decade.

Speakers during Monday’s event shined a light on the need for mental health resources for children the region is experiencing by sharing personal stories involving patients, as well as students helped through Kettering Fairmont High School’s Hope Squad.

“The number one reason any child is actually admitted to Dayton Children’s is thoughts of wanting to kill themselves,” said Dr. Kelly Blankenship, Dayton Children’s associate chief medical officer for behavioral health.

One patient stood out to Blankenship, who described how the child was admitted to Dayton Children’s after overdosing on medication in a suicide attempt. During her interview with the patient, Blankenship asked the child why they felt like life was not worth living.

“They talked about some bullying at school, some over social media. They talked about some difficulties at home and, during the interview, started crying. And when I asked them why they were crying, they said were crying because they were still alive. They wanted to be dead, and they couldn’t believe that suicide attempt didn’t work,” Blankenship said.

Similar patient stories like that one are heard daily at Dayton Children’s, Blankenship said.

“What’s really scary is how common that story is becoming,” Blankenship said. Over the last year, over 7,000 children were treated for a behavioral health crisis at Dayton Children’s. There were 211 children boarded in March 2023, waiting for a bed to become available in the behavioral health unit, which Dayton Children’s said was the highest ever and was an increase of 31% since March of last year.

“There are so few outpatient services and intensive therapy in the community that one in 12 will come back within 30 days to be re-admitted,” Blankenship said.

Teens also shared their experiences on what they and their peers have experienced as members of the Fairmont Hope Squad attended Monday’s event.

“Hope Squad is a peer-to-peer mental health and suicide prevention organization,” Harper Madges, a Kettering Fairmont High School senior and Hope Squad director. “The mission of Hope Squad is to reduce youth suicide through education, training, and peer intervention.”

Hope Squad taught Madges how to talk to and listen to her peers about what they are going through and feeling.

“Sometimes what I hear can be terrifying,” Madges said. “Freshman year, I found one of my friends breaking down in the bathroom. When I asked her what was wrong, I was not expecting her to say, ‘I just want to die. I can’t be here anymore.’”

This last year, she dealt with a difficult situation when one of her classmates was going through a crisis and reached out to Madges for help.

“One night she texted me, saying, ‘Harper, I need help,’” Madges said. “When I read this text, I was expecting it to be her asking for help about an assignment or asking a question about the class. I was not prepared when I received the next text that said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I have a bottle of pills next to me, and I want to go to sleep and never wake up.’”

While helping her friend through the crisis, the stigma around mental health became apparent, and Madges said this stigma promoted the idea that kids aren’t allowed to struggle or ask for help.

“We cannot continue to let our peers, friends, and kids feel this way,” Madges said. “Everyone has their own struggles.”

“We are blessed to have great children’s hospitals in the state of Ohio,” said Gov. Mike DeWine.

This step in addressing mental health care is another to fulfill a pledge made 60 years ago, DeWine said, by President John F. Kennedy.

“About three weeks before he was killed, he signed the Community Mental Health Act, and in that bill, there was a pledge made by Congress on behalf of the American people and made by the president that we would build in this country a mental health system so that no family would have to be in a situation where they could not find a place for their loved one,” DeWine said.

The act provided funding for states to establish local mental health centers, but only half were constructed and never fully funded.

DeWine emphasized Ohio’s commitment to mental health care, making a push for his proposed state budget, which includes funds for mental health services, like prevention, crisis response and treatment, workforce development, and innovation.

“You can’t build this system overnight, but we’re committed to building it,” DeWine.

Danis Construction, Cannon Design/FKP, and Champlin Architecture are the construction and design teams working on constructing the new Dayton Children’s behavioral health hospital.

Dayton Children’s Hospital is one of 31 independent freestanding children’s hospitals in the country, and it is the Dayton region’s only hospital dedicated to children. Dayton Children’s serves 20 Ohio counties and eastern Indiana, and they care for more than 320,000 children each year.

Dayton Children’s ongoing campus expansion

Over the past decade, Dayton Children’s has been following a strategic plan to expand its services, and they have been building the infrastructure needed to meet their goals and follow through on that plan.

--- An eight-story patient tower opened in the center of the main campus in June 2017. The state-of-the-art facility was the largest project in the hospital’s history, with a price tag of about $260 million. In 2019, the hospital built a $16 million employee garage in 2019.

--- Just this year, Dayton Children’s opened its five-story specialty care center, which cost approximately $78 million. The 152,000-square-foot building has four floors of outpatient clinic space and fifth-floor shell space.

--- The latest in this campus expansion, the new behavioral health building, is set to open in spring 2025 and will allow the hospital to do double the number of behavioral health inpatient beds currently available at Dayton Children’s from 24 to 48 and bring behavioral health inpatient, outpatient, and crisis services together under one roof.

--- Additionally, Dayton Children’s plans to expand its community-based therapy options for their patients. They recently opened a location in Beavercreek, and they are planning more locations in Huber Heights and Troy.

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