Trigger warning: This video contains content about suicide.
Kids in Wisconsin and across the country are suffering from a crisis in mental and behavioral health, while diagnosis and treatment of pediatric mental illness lags far behind the onset of symptoms. Today, The Yabuki Family Foundation and Children’s Wisconsin announced a $20 million gift to transform the delivery of integrated mental and behavioral health care at every Children’s Wisconsin primary care and urgent care location. This is the largest single gift in Children’s Wisconsin history.
Through the Yabuki family’s generosity, the program will expand to at least 36 full-time, master's-prepared therapists who will work alongside pediatricians in every Children’s Wisconsin primary care office and urgent care location. More than 175,000 kids are seen by Children’s Wisconsin pediatricians during routine checkups or at an urgent care visit. This holistic integration of mental and behavioral health creates a new standard for evaluation, treatment and access to services for children. When fully staffed in 2023, the program has the potential to benefit more than a third of the pediatric population in southeastern Wisconsin.
Therapists and pediatricians will collaborate on the spot to address concerns such as anxiety, depression, trauma and suicidal ideation, as well as attention difficulties, sleep challenges and disruptive behaviors. Doing so will ensure kids have immediate access to expert help, rather than the current process of lengthy waits for referrals and mental health appointments. Additional aspects of the new program include dedicated support staff to help families seamlessly access the array of services, additional access to psychiatry for further diagnosis and prescription consults, and advanced training on mental and behavioral health for Children’s Wisconsin pediatricians. These mental health services will be available to kids at all Children’s Wisconsin primary care offices and urgent care locations by the end of 2023.
The Yabuki family’s gift also supports the creation of an endowed mental and behavioral health research chair and analytics team to monitor program efficacy, improve and evolve the initiative and ultimately, to share best practices with pediatricians and pediatric health systems locally, regionally and nationally. Other funds will help expand research efforts, including a dedicated focus on understanding and reducing the increasing rate of suicide among kids.
The Yabuki Family Foundation was established by Jeff Yabuki, who served as CEO of Wisconsin-based Fiserv from 2005 to 2020, during which time it became the state’s most valuable public company. Under Yabuki’s leadership in 2018, Fiserv acquired the naming rights to Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Marquette University Golden Eagles.
Yabuki knows all too well the devastating effects childhood mental health issues can have on families. His younger brother’s depression went undiagnosed during childhood. In 2017, Craig Yabuki died by suicide, leaving behind a wife and three young children.
“Out of tragedy comes opportunity. We are honored to pay tribute to my brother by partnering with Children’s Wisconsin to create meaningful change for kids in Wisconsin and across the nation,” said Yabuki. “Through our partnership, we intend to significantly advance the manner in which mental and behavioral health issues in children are diagnosed, reduce the stigma, and enable care — when needed — to be delivered in a fully integrated way. Whether a child has an earache or is feeling anxiety, we are helping families to address mental and physical health, together, and with equal importance.”
Research indicates that more than half of individuals who struggle with mental health conditions in their lifetime start experiencing symptoms before the age of 14. Yet the average length of time between when symptoms appear and treatment begins is often more than 10 years. Kids will be helped much earlier by changing the conversation in the doctor’s office to focus on mental and behavioral health alongside growth charts, vaccination schedules and other standards of physical care. By proactively reaching kids when they are young, the greater the chance they will live happy, resilient and productive lives as adults.
“Too many kids are in crisis,” said Peggy Troy, president and CEO, Children’s Wisconsin. “In Wisconsin, one in five children is living with a serious mental illness and hospitalization rates for mental health conditions are nearly four times the national average. Given our size, reach and commitment, Children’s Wisconsin is uniquely positioned to drive better outcomes by permanently changing our primary care model to ensure mental health is prioritized at the same level as physical health. With the incredible generosity and partnership of Jeff and his family, we are able to expedite this transformation while collecting the data and conducting the research that allows this program to serve as a model for others.”
Yabuki said, “As we continue to recover from the physical and emotional toll of Covid-19, the need to help children — and adults — deal with the challenges of the last 16 or so months is even more compelling. We believe Children’s Wisconsin will be a beacon of hope for mental health and wellness at a time when it is needed the most.”
“Through our work, we know that the journey to achieving mental and behavioral health often starts in the pediatrician’s office,” said Amy Herbst, MSSW, APSW, vice president, Mental and Behavioral Health, Children’s Wisconsin. “But the existing system of care results in long waits and is often financially out of reach for families. Jeff’s generous gift helps change the system and bridge the financial gap. Importantly, it also allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of the program in ways that we believe will ultimately change the care model and demonstrate the health care savings that are possible through this kind of innovation.”
In the hope of inspiring others to join this critical effort, the Yabuki family has designated $5 million as a Change the Checkup Challenge in which every additional gift for this program will be matched dollar-for-dollar. In this way, others can also help change the conversation, change the checkup and change the result for kids in Wisconsin.
“The Yabuki family's historic gift supports the overall commitment of Children’s Wisconsin to mental health and will drive groundbreaking advancements in how we detect and treat mental and behavioral health challenges in kids,” said Meg Brzyski Nelson, president, Children’s Wisconsin Foundation. “And through their matching challenge, we can accelerate this work even further. The community has shown incredible support for our investment in advancing mental and behavioral health. Our hope is more donors are motivated to join the Yabuki family and our team in changing the checkup and making Wisconsin’s kids the healthiest in the nation.”
About The Yabuki Family Foundation
The purpose of The Yabuki Family Foundation is to have a positive impact across communities with a focus on enabling people to be their best. Its primary causes include families and education, access and support of the arts, and advancing causes which enhance social justice. The Yabuki Family Foundation, which was established in 1999, is taking a transformational leadership role in the fight to reduce and eliminate depression, anxiety and other mental and emotional issues, which often begin in childhood.
About Children’s Wisconsin
Children’s Wisconsin is the region’s only independent health care system dedicated solely to the health and well-being of children. The hospital, with locations in Milwaukee and Neenah, Wisconsin, is recognized as one of the leading pediatric health care centers in the United States. It is ranked in six specialty areas in U.S. News & World Report’s 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals report. Children’s Wisconsin provides primary care, specialty care, mental and behavioral care, urgent care, emergency care, community health services, foster and adoption services, child and family counseling, child advocacy services and family resource centers. In 2020, Children’s Wisconsin invested more than $100 million in the community to improve the health status of children through medical care, advocacy, education and pediatric medical research. Children’s Wisconsin achieves its mission in part through donations from individuals, corporations and foundations and is proud to be a member of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
About Children’s Wisconsin $150 Million Commitment to Mental Health
Integrated mental and behavioral health is one of the seven key pillars of the Children’s Wisconsin comprehensive $150 million, five-year vision introduced in 2019 to address the growing mental and behavioral health crisis facing Wisconsin’s kids. Funded through a mixture of philanthropy, reimbursements, state and federal grants and system reinvestment, the overall strategy is designed to detect needs sooner, improve access to services and reduce the stigma around the illness.