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More mental health help is on the way for Charlotte youth
New treatment centers are opening in the Charlotte region to handle the surging number of kids who need urgent help
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Today, we wrap up our series of articles in partnership with North Carolina Health News about North Carolina’s teen mental health crisis. Find out more about the series here.
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National and local agencies are launching alternatives to the emergency room for kids with mental health conditions; ‘We can’t act fast enough.’
by Michelle Crouch
Co-published with N.C. Health News
For struggling teens who need more than a once-a-week therapy appointment to overcome a serious mental health condition, the options in Charlotte have long been limited.
Only a handful of local providers offer the type of treatment that is most effective for those kids: either an intensive outpatient treatment program that meets a few days a week or a spot in a residential facility where they can stay for a few weeks or months.
Over the next year, however, three health care providers are investing millions to open new treatment centers in the Charlotte area to help fill the gap, The Charlotte Ledger has learned. Together, they will add 84 adolescent beds to the region and more than double the city’s capacity to serve teens who need intensive outpatient treatment.
“We can’t act fast enough,” said Alyson Kuroski-Mazzei, CEO and chief medical officer of HopeWay, which is building a new adolescent treatment center. “These kids needed help yesterday. When you look at the (suicide) statistics and think about your own children or your friend’s kids, it’s terrifying.”
The new projects are:
HopeWay, which operates an adult facility on Sharon Road West, will open an 18,716 s.f. clinic for adolescents in east Charlotte in early 2024. Called HopeWay at Oakhurst Commons, it will offer a day treatment program for up to 24 kids ages 12 to 17 with anxiety, depression, mood disorders and other mental health conditions. The facility will also house a separate program for up to 24 teens and young adults struggling with eating disorders.
Newport Academy, a national for-profit provider of teen mental health services, is opening a large clinic in Pineville this fall that will offer two types of intensive outpatient treatment programs and serve up to 24 adolescents. The company is also planning to open two home-like “healing centers” where 12 teens can get residential treatment in Mint Hill.
The nonprofit arm of Starmount Healthcare, which operated StarMed clinics during Covid, is planning to open a 70,000 s.f. youth residential facility and behavioral health urgent care center in a renovated building across from the old Eastland Mall. The Katie Blessing Center will have 72 beds and intensive outpatient programs to serve kids ages 5 to 18, said Starmount Healthcare president and founder Michael Estramonte. The goal is to open in fall 2024, he said.
State and county prioritize mental health
Other organizations, too, are pouring resources into meeting the needs of Charlotte’s struggling youth.
Mecklenburg County’s first behavioral health urgent care center opened in March, a joint collaboration of the Steve Smith Family Foundation, Alliance Health and Mecklenburg County. The center, called the Smith Family Behavioral Health Urgent Care, can serve as an alternative to the emergency room for people who need access to mental health services, said Ashley Golds, senior program director of outpatient crisis services for Daymark Recovery Services, which operates the facility.
The center is serving about 160 people a month, she said. It’s off Monroe Road near The Park Expo & Conference Center.
“People are really excited that we are in the community,” Golds said. “We provide a place where someone can come 24/7, so they can come here at 2 in the morning if necessary.”
Mecklenburg County is also working on a Behavioral Health Strategic Plan to improve “access, quality and coordination of the community’s behavioral health services,” county spokesman Alex Burnett said in an email. More than 200 residents have contributed feedback through community engagement sessions, Burnett said, and the county will publish a draft with recommendations in spring 2024.
At the state level, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper asked for an additional $1B for mental health needs, and lawmakers in both chambers have said they support more spending on behavioral health.
The details of the final state budget are expected to be worked out this month. But mental health advocates are hoping the budget will include higher reimbursement rates for providers, more behavioral health resources in primary care offices and schools and money for more crisis centers where people experiencing distress can go for an initial evaluation instead of the emergency room.
More crisis beds and services for teens
To help reduce the number of children with mental health problems waiting in hospital emergency rooms for a bed, Alliance Health, Mecklenburg County’s managed care provider, has collaborated with the county to open 21 new short-term crisis beds at various locations around the county since December 2021 to serve Mecklenburg County children, said CEO Rob Robinson.
The crisis beds are mostly being used for children in county custody who have complex cases, he said. Some are tough to place because they have behavior challenges or intellectual disabilities on top of a mental health problem, Robinson said.
Alliance has plans to open 71 new beds across its six-county service area over the next two years, he added.
Alexander Youth Network and Thompson Child & Family Focus, two providers that offer residential treatment for youth in the Charlotte area, said they, too, have added beds and expanded their services for teens in response to the crisis.
“Six and a half years ago, when I arrived, we weren’t even serving adolescents,” said Thompson Child & Family Focus President and CEO Will Jones. “We were just focused on those ages 6 to 11. But the larger and growing need was adolescents, so we started moving our residential and community-based interventions to focus heavily on adolescents.”
A one-stop shop for mental health
Estramonte, Starmount’s president, said the company was able to grow exponentially due to the success of its Covid clinics, and he wanted to use the company’s resources to help meet the area’s biggest need: youth mental health.
“We don’t have a single friend or family member who doesn’t have a firsthand experience with behavioral health challenges, or have someone extremely close to them that hasn’t had firsthand experience,” he said.
His vision is for the Katie Blessing Center to serve as a one-stop shop for children with mental health issues, he said. Families can bring their children to the urgent care to be assessed, and then move them into the appropriate program on campus, whether it’s an inpatient psychiatric bed, a longer-term stay in the residential program or outpatient treatment. (The center is pursuing state licensure as an inpatient psychiatric hospital as well as a psychiatric residential treatment facility, he said.)
The Katie Blessing Center will have a large gym as well as an outdoor recreation area. (Rendering courtesy of Michael Estramonte)
The 70,000-square-foot center will be located on five acres off Central Avenue. It’s named for Estramonte’s mom, who is a former teacher and plans to help tutor in the facility.
“We’re not a health care company; we’re a logistics company that does health care,” Estramonte said. “We think we can do some things that aren’t being done and do them in a way that really benefits children and adolescents who are going through this.”
New programs that offer intensive outpatient treatment
For kids who don’t need 24-hour residential care but would benefit from more intensive therapy, there are typically two types of intensive outpatient treatment:
Partial Hospitalization Programs: Also called day treatment programs, they typically run on weekdays during school hours and offer group and one-on-one therapy, family support, coping skills training and time for schoolwork. In Charlotte, Atrium Behavioral Health and Novant Health offer these for teens.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs): They are similar to partial hospitalization programs, but they operate in the afternoons so kids can continue to attend school during treatment. Queen City Counseling & Consulting currently has the only IOP in Charlotte focused primarily on mental health, said Ellen Herbert, the program’s clinical director.
Both types of programs aim to provide enough support to keep kids with mental health problems living at home, rather than going to a hospital or residential facility. They can also be a step down for kids who are coming out of the hospital after a crisis.
The new HopeWay center will have a partial hospitalization program, while Newport Academy and the Katie Blessing Center will offer both partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient treatment programs.
HopeWay at Oakhurst Commons, an adolescent treatment facility, will offer intensive outpatient treatment for kids ages 12-17. (Rendering courtesy of HopeWay)
‘The landscape in Charlotte is changing’
Susan Keel Anderson, executive director of Newport’s residential program, said the company decided to locate in Charlotte because it heard from many North Carolina families looking for care.
“When you have someone who needs more support but not necessarily hospitalization, that’s a really scary place for kids and families,” she said. “As we got the calls, it became evident this was a region really lacking the resources.”
Queen City Counseling & Consulting, which serves 12 kids at a time in its intensive outpatient program, typically has a six-week wait list, Herbert said. Turning families away is tough, she said, so she’s looking forward to having more local providers she can refer those families to.
“The landscape in Charlotte is changing, which is phenomenal,” Herbert said. “To see so many providers opening up programs for teens in the Charlotte community gives me hope.”
Michelle Crouch covers health care. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of a partnership between The Ledger and North Carolina Health News to produce original health care reporting focused on the Charlotte area. We make these articles available free to all. For more information, or to support this effort with a tax-free gift, click here.
Charlotte-area mental health resources for youth in crisis
➡️ Have a teen who is severely depressed, anxious or experiencing another mental health condition? See our list of youth mental health resources for kids in crisis.
When you take someone in a mental health crisis to the E.R.
North Carolina Health News this morning has a comprehensive article explaining what happens when you take someone to the E.R. for mental health treatment, including:
What is an involuntary commitment?
What rights do parents have when their child is committed at a psychiatric hospital?
‘The Kids Are Not Alright’ series on teen mental health, from The Charlotte Ledger and N.C. Health News
TODAY: Mental health providers are launching programs to help fill the gaps in care — and hoping for help from the county and state
You might be interested in these Charlotte events
Events submitted by readers to The Ledger’s events board:
WEDNESDAY: The Sooner, The Better: Addressing Today’s Adolescent Mental Health Crisis, 6-7:30 p.m., Central Piedmont Community College’s Parr Center, New Theater. Join HopeWay’s educational event about today’s adolescent mental health crisis. Dr. Harold Koplewicz, a leading child and adolescent psychiatrist, will address the top challenges youth are facing and ways to offer meaningful support and help build resiliency. Tickets are $35.
SEPT. 28: Bundles & Bluegrass, 5:30-7:30 p.m., The Ruth by Beau Monde. Join us for Bundles & Bluegrass on September 28 at The Ruth! Open bar, hors d'oeuvres and live entertainment all provided. Proceeds benefit Baby Bundles and support our extraordinary, expectant mothers and their newborn babies living in financial need. Early bird ticket rate ends August 20.
Cathy Bessant named Foundation for the Carolinas CEO: Cathy Bessant, who announced her retirement in July from a 42-year career with Bank of America, will take over as president and CEO of Foundation for the Carolinas starting Jan. 1. “I've built my career on racial equality and economic equality and social justice,” Bessant said during an online news conference Wednesday. “You can expect me to leverage the work that's been done and to work very hard to take it forward.” Laura Smith will continue to serve as interim CEO and president until Bessant takes over.
Guard kills man at uptown bus station: A security guard shot and killed a man at around 12:30 a.m. today at the Charlotte Transportation Center uptown. Police say the guard perceived a deadly threat. They’re continuing to investigate. (WBTV)
Raise for county manager: Mecklenburg commissioners approved an 8% raise for County Manager Dena Diorio, taking her combined total compensation to $505,841.75. The board also approved a one-time bonus of $25,000. Diorio has served as county manager since 2014. (Observer)
Furniture maker bankruptcy: The N.C.-based furniture maker Mitchell Gold Co., also known as Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday. Last month, it shut its factory in Taylorsville and laid off more than 500 workers. In bankruptcy documents, the company said PNC Bank declined to provide the financing it needed. The company has hired Charlotte-based Stump & Co. as financial advisors. (Furniture Today)
Historic Siloam School relocated: The historic Siloam School was scheduled to be moved this morning from the Mallard Creek neighborhood to the Charlotte Museum of History’s campus in east Charlotte. The Siloam School is a 1920s African-American schoolhouse. Once the building is restored in 2024, the schoolhouse will serve as a center for history education on racial discrimination and injustice.
Car theft ring: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police are working to break up a luxury car theft ring that reaches into several states. The ring involves the theft and sale of high-end vehicles that are believed to be connected to crimes in Charlotte and beyond, including murders, drive-by shootings, armed robberies and other property crimes. So far, CMPD has recovered 132 vehicles valued at nearly $11.5M as well as more than $200,000 in cash and 82 firearms, as well as drugs. (WFAE)
Snake in a school: Students at Unity Classical Charter School in southwest Charlotte were sent home Thursday after a teacher found a snake in a classroom after recess. A parent said it is the second time that has happened: “I don’t know if snakes like the school or what.” (WSOC)
Pinehurst crackdown: The general manager of Pinehurst Country Club says the club is going to crack down on golfers who urinate on the club’s fabled golf courses. He wrote in an email to club members: “Over the past several years, the increase in players using the golf courses as a restroom has increased here at the Club. This behavior will not be tolerated as we are taking a firmer stance to combat this issue.” The club says it can kick out members or guests who violate its rules, and it has installed signs directing golfers to restrooms. (The Pilot of Southern Pines)
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