The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic weighs heavily on all, perhaps none more than America’s young people. Experts were warning of an intensifying mental health crisis among children and young adults in the United States before the pandemic – data from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau shows that more than 13% of U.S. children ages 3-17 had a diagnosed mental or behavioral health condition, a 60% increase from 2007. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates, stable from 2000- 2007, leapt nearly 60% by 2018.
The fear, isolation and uncertainty swirling around the pandemic has only exacerbated the national crisis in pediatric and adolescent mental health. In December 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a public health advisory about the “urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.” At University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s, clinicians are seeing a 20% increase in pediatric patients receiving mental and behavioral health services.
A time to act
Greater Cleveland-area philanthropists Ashley and Michael Fisher have long been passionate advocates for health-related causes, particularly since their son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. As they saw the toll the mental health crisis was taking on a healthcare system already stressed by the physical health emergency of COVID-19, they were inspired to act. Their $2 million gift from their Cleveland Foundation donor advised fund to UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s will help the hospital system expand its network of mental health services across the region.
The physical effects of the pandemic are easy to see, said Michael Fisher. “What isn’t as obvious is the mental health aspect that comes from the stress, the isolation and the worry. When you’re struggling with your mental health, it can be debilitating. I hope our gift can help UH Rainbow increase capacity, including telemedicine options, and help make sure all the services patients are receiving are aligned.”
Mike Fisher is a veteran technology executive currently serving as the chief technology officer for Etsy, while Ashley puts her energy toward helping children and families in the local community through her volunteer work. Both have a lifelong passion for giving back to their communities, but their philanthropic journey changed with their son’s diagnosis, according to Ashley.
“The diagnosis pushed us into more hands-on work, like advocacy and fundraising,” said Michael. “After a few years, we took a step back from that and started thinking about other areas we really care about.”
The Fishers have a long history of supporting organizations that serve children and families in Northeast Ohio through their donor advised fund at the Cleveland Foundation, which they established in 2012.
“The DAF has allowed us to put money aside while we figure out the areas where we want to focus,” said Michael. “It’s given us time to think, and we’ve seen such a positive impact from our participation in the last decade.”
When they saw the toll the mounting mental health crisis was taking in their community, they reached out to their philanthropic advisor at the Cleveland Foundation, Jason Weiner, to see where their charitable dollars could make an impact.
“We have been honored to serve as philanthropic partners to the Fisher family for the last decade,” said Weiner. “Their transformative gift to University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s is an inspiration to anyone looking to make an impact on the lives of young people in Greater Cleveland.”
More comprehensive care
The family’s generosity will support additional mental health workers at UH Rainbow facilities, new technology systems and specialized programs to meet the needs of teens and young adults.
“It is so important that our patients receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time, for all medical needs, but especially critical in mental and behavioral health conditions,” said Patti DePompei, RN, MSN, president, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s and UH MacDonald Women’s hospitals and Rainbow Babies & Children’s Foundation Chair in Leadership and Innovation. “The support of the Fisher family will improve access to experts in this area and leverage new technology systems for caregivers to follow-up with patients and their families so they are never alone in their treatment plan.”
Another key to improving access to mental health care for young patients is better systems for tracking and follow-up. The Fishers’ gift to UH Rainbow will also support new technology and systems development to ensure a patient’s health history follows them wherever they seek care, which is especially critical in crisis situations. Additionally, long-term, outpatient follow-up can help reduce emergency department visits and minimize mental health crisis situations.
“The Fisher family’s gift will help us reduce the number of inpatient admissions for our young patients in need of mental health care, which will allow us to focus on longer term care plans and outpatient follow-up,” explained Charles Macias, MD, MPH, chief quality officer, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “Their generosity will also allow more patients in need of acute care to stay in the UH health system.”
The Fishers are excited to be part of changing the mental and behavioral healthcare landscape in Northeast Ohio and hope their gift might inspire others to make a difference in their community.
Interested in establishing a donor advised fund for your business or family? Contact our Advancement team at 877.554.5054 to start a conversation about how to make your greatest charitable impact.