The Coca-Cola Foundation has awarded a $5 million grant to help Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – the largest and only freestanding pediatric healthcare system in Georgia – lead a community effort to create a behavioral and mental health system of care that will leverage early intervention to improve outcomes, reduce stigma and enhance access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
In addition to being one of the largest pediatric clinical care systems in the country, Children’s offers extensive programs and subsidized health services to augment care and improve the health of Georgia’s children. In 2020, approximately 57% of patients were on Medicaid, PeachCare for Kids or unable to cover the cost of their care. In fact, Children’s is the largest Medicaid provider in Georgia, serving eight out of 10 pediatric inpatient Medicaid cases in Atlanta and four out of 10 statewide.
The $5 million grant – the Foundation’s largest-ever non-COVID related grant benefiting an Atlanta-based organization – will support Children’s four stated priorities:
- Innovate behavioral and mental health care though initiatives that better integrate behavioral and mental health care into all care settings at Children’s.
- Transform access by identifying concerns earlier in the child’s journey, providing treatment and connecting them with resources in their community.
- Pioneer prevention by expanding the resiliency efforts in primary care, schools and early care, while also communicating with parents to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and wellness.
- Build a strong foundation by hiring leadership, collecting data and outcomes, and working for policy and payment changes to confront structural challenges that threaten the sustainability of behavioral and mental health care delivery.
According to UNICEF, one in four young people in the United States between ages 15 and 24 report feeling depressed or having little interest in doing things. UNICEF’s 2021 edition of The State of the World’s Children report offers a deep dive into how the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of children, adolescents and caregivers is just the “tip of the iceberg.” The report calls on governments to boost investment in mental health and psychosocial support and urges society to “break the silence” surrounding mental health by addressing stigma and promoting understanding.
“Since 2017, the number of kids coming to Children’s emergency departments due to a behavioral or mental health concern has increased 133%, and the average age of the children facing a behavioral or mental health emergency is only 9 years old,” explains Janine Musholt, President of the Children’s Foundation. “This generous gift from The Coca Cola Foundation will help Children’s address this growing crisis. It is directed at preventing future health crises by giving families information and tools to raise their resilience.”
Rates of childhood mental health concerns were steadily rising over the past decade, but the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated these challenges.
“The growing number of children experiencing behavioral and/or mental health issues shines a spotlight on the risk encroaching on communities around the world. This risk threatens communities from thriving,” said Saadia Madsbjerg, VP of Global Community Affairs for The Coca-Cola Company, and President of The Coca-Cola Foundation. “As such, promoting mental wellbeing within one of the most vulnerable populations in our hometown is of paramount importance to us.”
Since 2000, The Coca-Cola Company and The Coca-Cola Foundation have provided more than $7 million in grants to Children’s. The Coca-Cola Company has provided sponsorship support for numerous events including the Children’s Hope and Will Ball and holiday events, as well as a $1 million donation to support Children’s “One to Grow On” Campaign in 2005.
Additionally, Bea Perez, SVP and Chief Communications, Sustainability and Strategic Partnerships Officer for The Coca-Cola Company, serves on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Board of Trustees, and Madsbjerg serves on the Children’s Foundation board.