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$15M Benioff Gift Expands Children’s Mental Health Services in East Bay

Funding for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Reflects National Shortage in Care

By Kate Vidinsky

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland has received a $15 million gift from Lynne and Marc Benioff to address the acute shortage of mental health services for children and adolescents in Oakland and the East Bay, which reflects a nationwide shortage.

The $15 million gift – the final investment in a $50 million commitment made by the Benioffs to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland in 2014 – is intended to enable the Oakland hospital to increase its mental health services, while also serving as a catalyst to raise awareness and spur additional philanthropy into pediatric and adolescent mental health in the Bay Area.

“Children are suffering from an extraordinary amount of stress and mental illness, and we must rise to the challenge of meeting this need in what is truly a public health crisis,” said Michael Anderson, MD, president of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, which has campuses in San Francisco and Oakland. “UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland stands as a beacon of hope for kids, and thanks to the generous foresight of Lynne and Marc Benioff, we can lay the groundwork to become an international leader in pediatric mental health care.”

Marc and I hope that this gift will raise awareness of the mental health crisis facing children here in our community and that others will join us in supporting the hospital’s mental health mission.

Lynne Benioff

The funds will be put to immediate use to strengthen and enhance the current mental health programs at the Oakland hospital, including by increasing the number of providers on staff, which will allow an additional 5,000 psychiatric visits per year, doubling current capacity. It also will allow for new early intervention approaches, including an access portal to support training of primary care physicians in the community, as well as a patient referral process so that children get the care they need sooner.

“There’s nothing more important than the health and well-being of our children,” said Lynne Benioff. “Marc and I hope that this gift will raise awareness of the mental health crisis facing children here in our community and that others will join us in supporting the hospital’s mental health mission.”

The Benioffs have a long history of support for children’s health care. Since 2005, the couple has donated more than $327 million to UCSF, including $200 million in support of the Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland, and $50 million to launch the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals Preterm Birth Initiative, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Cities across the nation are facing a tremendous need for mental health care for our children and teens. This is an issue that cuts across all races, all cultures and all socioeconomic levels,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “This generous gift from Marc and Lynne Benioff is a key step in enabling our beloved UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital here in Oakland to care for all of our children, not only in Oakland but throughout the East Bay.”

A Crisis of Historic Proportions

The Benioffs’ support for mental health comes as the prevalence of mental illness has skyrocketed nationwide. Today, one in five youth under the age of 18 suffers from some type of diagnosable mental illness, the most common of which include anxiety, depression, eating disorders and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. At the same time, the number of providers has remained flat, leading to a major shortage of mental health services for children and adolescents.

The widespread issue has been accompanied by an alarming increase in suicides among young people. From 2000 to 2016, the U.S. suicide rate for girls 15-24 years of age rose by 80 percent, while boys in the same age group saw a 20 percent climb. Now the second leading cause of death for adolescents worldwide, suicide claims more young lives each year than cancer, diabetes, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bryan King
Bryan King, MD

The pervasiveness of mental illness has done little to abate the widespread stigma surrounding mental disorders, largely due to a lack of knowledge about their underlying biology and root causes, explained Bryan King, MD, Lisa and John Pritzker Family Distinguished Professor in Child Psychiatry; co-director of the UCSF Child Teen and Family Center; and vice president for child behavioral health services at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals.

“This is a crisis that demands our immediate attention,” King said. “This gift will put us on the right trajectory to not only do a better job caring for our population, but also elevate the discourse in a way that will positively impact the stigma that has surrounded mental illness for too long,” he said.

Acting Now to Ensure a Brighter Future

Efforts are already underway to recruit six new child psychiatrists as a result of these initial funds, as well as two psychologists and one social worker. The hospital hopes to continue that growth further.

“This gift allows us to take a giant step forward in expanding our workforce, and the cascading effects of that are great,” King added. “What invariably happens when you start to generate excitement and pull together a talented team to tackle enormous problems is that other people want to be part of it.”

In addition to bolstering its mental health team, the hospital will add two new child psychiatry training positions designed to attract top talent and encourage trainees to remain in the East Bay to practice medicine long-term.

Finally, the funds will be used to establish a new Child Psychiatry Access Portal, a model King successfully implemented during his tenure at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The portal program is designed to train primary care physicians in the community – particularly those in more rural areas – to serve as the front line for early stage mental health care management, with the support of a psychiatric hotline, referral management and continuing medical education. By utilizing the primary care setting to manage common mental health conditions, patients are more likely to get the care they need early on, improving the likelihood of successfully managing their illness.

A Community in Need and Poised to Make a Difference

The hope is that these ground-level contributions to pediatric mental health will lay the foundation for a revolutionized model of care nationwide, a vision that benefits from the diversity of the population the Oakland hospital serves, ­­while significantly benefiting the neediest children in the immediate community.

“The children of Alameda County are our future,” said Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson. “We have a responsibility to provide the mental health care many of them need. We must all work together – the county, city, health care community-based organizations and the philanthropic community – to address the serious shortage of child and adolescent psychiatric services and offer our children the care, the healing, and the better future they deserve.”

About UCSF Health: UCSF Health is recognized worldwide for its highly innovative patient care, reflecting the latest medical knowledge, advanced technologies and pioneering research. It includes the flagship UCSF Medical Center, which is ranked among the top five hospitals nationwide, as well as UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, with campuses in San Francisco and Oakland, Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital and Clinics, UCSF Benioff Children’s Physicians and the UCSF Faculty Practice. These hospitals serve as the academic medical center of the University of California, San Francisco, which is world-renowned for its graduate-level health sciences education and biomedical research. UCSF Health has affiliations with hospitals and health organizations throughout the Bay Area.