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Take the Lead: Going beyond medicine: help CMN Hospitals care for youth’s behavioral and mental health needs

Take the Lead is a blog series from Teri Nestel, president and CEO of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. In this leadership-focused series, Teri will share her insights and leadership lessons alike.

Mental and behavioral health is just as important as someone’s physical health. That’s an important lesson that society has learned over the years.

100% of our member hospitals offer some mental health service, resource or community benefit. Many of these programs need additional funding to ensure barriers aren’t created, subsequently limiting access to this type of care. Mental & behavioral health services span a variety of forms and can include self-care strategies such as art, music, horticultural, play and pet therapies.

The Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy teams at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in New York helped CMN Hospitals’ National Champion Camryn (age 9) to create her own coping kit during her 88-day hospital stay for sickle cell disease, culminating in a successful stem cell treatment. The kit helped Camryn to distract herself during painful medical procedures and to cope with loneliness and isolation.

Ashley, a fellow 2023 National Champion (age 16) has faced a series of chronic health conditions since birth and has long been under the medical team’s care at Children’s Wisconsin, benefitting from many clinical and self-care programs funded by CMN Hospitals. Her personal experience led her to become an advocate for mental health and self-care for children.

“When kids are having medical problems, they treat the problem in front of you which is important. But it’s also mentally draining to be going through all these things, so you need to make sure that you are addressing that,” said Ashley.

Learn more about Camryn’s and Ashley’s stories here.

Benjamin, a previous National Champion, also benefitted from CMN Hospitals-funded Child Life programs during his hospitalization at Duke Children’s for a rare, incurable bone disorder causing excruciating bone pain. Child Life specialists helped Benjamin learn about his condition and gave him comfort during treatment. Benjamin will live with this condition his whole life; thanks to his care team, he can manage his pain while attending high school, participating in Boy Scouts, swimming regularly, and caring for his family’s chickens.

And when a child is hospitalized, their family can also suffer from stress and anxiety. One of our current National Champions, Tyson, weighed only 12.7 ounces (less than a can of soda) when he was born at 24 weeks (about 5 and a half months) gestation at Valley Children’s Hospital. A Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals-funded webcam allowed his family to keep an eye on him in the NICU when they went home for much-needed rest. Now age 10, Tyson is one of the world’s smallest surviving NICU babies.

In addition to programs for hospitalized kids, CMN Hospitals also funds mental health and self-care programs in the community, including telehealth care, school-based care, depression and suicide screenings, and integrated physical-mental health primary care clinics.

“A lot of kids are sick and feeling really bad and feeling like they have no hope mentally,” said Camryn. “It’s important to donate. It helps kids’ lives change for the better.”

Support your local member hospital of CMN Hospitals at