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NYU Plans Mental Health Center for Children

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From: New York Times

By Richard Perez-Pena
Published: February 9, 2006

New York University plans to build what it says will be the nation's largest pediatric mental health center to treat thousands of children and train thousands of doctors, and Gov. George E. Pataki has pledged more than $65 million in state funds for the project, which will help address a pressing need.

The centerpiece will be a $110 million 120,000-square-foot Child Studies Center on First Avenue, between 25th and 26th Streets, to open in 2009, university officials said. It will be dedicated mostly to outpatient treatment and research, but will have a small number of inpatient beds. The project also includes the construction of a children's psychiatric hospital in Rockland County.

The project, will be formally announced today at a ceremony with Governor Pataki and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. The state will contribute $30 million toward the center in Manhattan, the entire $35 million cost of building the Rockland hospital, and an undetermined amount - also in the millions of dollars - on research staff members at the hospital. Including a $50 million endowment the university hopes to raise for the Child Studies Center, N.Y.U. put the price of the entire effort at $200 million.

New York has an acute shortage of mental health services for children, especially for those on Medicaid, the government health plan for the poor. Children on Medicaid routinely wait many months to see therapists, and some give up and go without care. Each year, more than 1,000 children who need psychiatric hospitalization are sent out of state because there is no place in New York for them.

The state has long resisted granting new licenses for mental health centers. Some centers, like the one N.Y.U. has now, were able get licenses to operate, but not to be Medicaid providers.

But people involved in mental health say that in the last few years the state has become somewhat more receptive to allowing new centers. This year Mr. Pataki added $62 million for pediatric mental health services to his proposed budget. In N.Y.U.'s case, the state plans not only to allow a new center - an enormous one, at that - but also to license it to accept Medicaid payment, to cover a large share of the cost.

The governor said in an interview that the emphasis on research was a big part of the project's appeal, that "as new treatments, new concepts arrive, we're going to make sure that New York" is a leader in developing them. "We're going to do the most advanced treatment in the world, but we're also going to find the nature of the problems."

Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, the director of the Child Studies Center, said, "We've been talking to the governor about this for two years, and I think he has recognized that instead of building new jail cells and wondering why kids drop out of school, if we front-loaded this and built more treatment centers, trained more doctors, that would be better."

The current N.Y.U. center accepts about 2,000 new children each year for outpatient treatment, and Dr. Koplewicz said that in the new center the number "will at least triple, if not quadruple." In addition to expanding its work on depression, anxiety, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and other common problems, he said, the center will focus on autism, eating disorders and the science of genetics and the brain.

The number of child psychiatrists the center trains each year will double to 16, Dr. Koplewicz said.

"But more important," he said, "because there are never going to be enough child psychiatrists, eventually, we're going to train thousands of pediatricians a year in identifying and treating depression, anxiety, A.D.H.D. and autism as a routine part of their practice."

Mr. Bloomberg said that the center held out "the promise of revolutionizing our understanding of these types of mental health problems," and that "it will bolster our city's position as a global leader in medical and bioscience research."

News of the project - and the state's involvement in it - surprised people who work in children's health. Phillip A. Saperia, executive director of the Coalition of Voluntary Mental Health Agencies, a trade group, said the project was the latest sign, and perhaps the most impressive, of a change in the state's approach to children's mental health. "This is a very big deal," he said.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, president of the Children's Health Fund, which operates several clinics, said, "This is fantastic news." He added, "Whatever Harold Koplewicz did to make this happen needs to be replicated, because the state has been so adamant about not licensing or paying for new facilities."

Jeremy Snyder, 14, who has A.D.H.D., said that like many young people, he found that before he started going to N.Y.U.'s center, "It was such a struggle to find places to go, especially anyplace that could address all of my needs under one roof." He said the center had helped him overcome behavioral and academic problems.

The state operates a psychiatric hospital complex in Orangeburg, in Rockland County, and N.Y.U. plans to replace the existing pediatric hospital there with the one it intends to build. The plan is to use N.Y.U. students and faculty as staff members and bolster the research done there.

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