GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids-based mental healthcare system is expanding its facilities and programs for children and adolescents.

Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, the largest behavioral health provider in Michigan, has announced that it will be building a Pediatric Behavior Health Center of Excellence on its Grand Rapids campus.

“What this does is gives us a whole new set of tools in the toolbox,” said Dr. Mark Eastburg, President and CEO of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

The healthcare system will develop new collaborative programming across the state including more inpatient beds, a new pediatric psychiatric urgent care center, a new treatment facility for children with autism and developmental disabilities, and an eating disorders treatment facility.

Pine Rest will also be expanding outpatient and teleservices, new clinics for anxiety, depression, autism and eating disorders. It’s growing programs to help people with substance abuse and to diagnose things like ADHD, autism, and learning disabilities.

The expansion and new programs will cost $62 million. Already, Pine Rest has been awarded $38 million in Michigan’s newly passed 2023 budget. It is launching a campaign to raise the remaining $24 million it needs to fund the project.

Pine Rest’s new building and programs come as the hospital says behavioral health needs across the nation are “at epidemic levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” But even before the pandemic, the 2019 State of Michigan Behavioral Access Report found that 38% of Michiganders who experienced a mental illness were not receiving care, according to a press release. In 2017, suicide was the second-leading cause of death in people ages 10-24, according to data from the CDC.

“Mental health problems and the chronic shortage of services made worse by the pandemic have been robbing our kids of the joy we all want for them,” said Eastburg. “The Pediatric Behavioral Health Center of Excellence will help our community and state become a place where none of our kids will have to wait weeks or months for world class mental health care.”

Getting funding for the project is one thing. Getting the staff needed to provide those services is another.

Part of the $38 million will be used to recruit mental health professionals from around the country, selling them on the unique approach to the plan. Other efforts involve local college and inhouse recruitment.

“We really think that this is an amazing opportunity for a professional to be working in an environment like this,” said Eastburg.  

“It will be a challenge, but we think we have a good plan to really fill the workforce development gap,” he added.