Garrett makes appeal for more philanthropic support for behavioral health

HMH CEO, long leader on mental health issues, is hoping others will follow example of Cohen Foundation, which helped jump-start key Carrier Clinic expansion with $10M gift

Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett was thrilled to recognize the $10 million gift from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation last Friday during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Carrier Clinic’s $40 million, 43,000-square-foot modernization project for treating children and adolescents with behavioral health issues.

Like every other health care executive, Garrett knows that large donations — from individuals and foundations — can be a key to jump-starting a public-private partnership that will improve care and increase research around key medical concerns.

Garrett, however, wanted to recognize the Cohen Foundation for another reason — its willingness to fund a project around behavioral health.

While the stigma around mental health issues certainly has lessened in recent years (thank the pandemic for that), the ability to fundraise around the issue still remains a challenge.

Simply put, raising money for a new cancer center, children’s hospital or cardiac procedure remains far easier.

Garrett, who earlier this year called for a “moonshot” moment to increase awareness and care around behavioral health, wants to change that.

It’s time to make mental health mainstream, he said. And for one good reason: It impacts us all.

“We’re hoping the announcement of the Cohen Foundation’s contribution will be an example that other foundations and other philanthropists will follow and step up,” he said.

“Most people either have experienced behavioral health or mental health issues within their own families or have friends or neighbors that have. I think part of our mission is to take away the stigma that exists with mental illness.

“I think the more people who talk about it, the more we’re going to see more philanthropy around it.”

Friday’s announcement was a perfect example of the good such a donation can do.

The project not only will create 52 more beds for those suffering a behavioral health issue — it will create beds for a segment of the population that has few places to go: kids ages 7-11.

Many facilities will not take patients under 12.

Garrett, long a thought leader in behavioral health issues, is glad HMH and the Carrier Clinic are taking the lead here.

He’s hoping others will follow.

“It is going to take public-private partnerships,” he said. “We really need all of government to get in on this just crisis, because it’s affecting our entire culture.”

And, as Garrett points out, it’s a proven formula for success. He mentions the national effort to fight cancer — an effort that has resulted in a 30% decline in cancer deaths in just a generation.

The country must do the same for behavioral health, he said.

Friday, he said, was a good start — especially for the youngest among us.

“Without proper and timely diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, today’s child in crisis becomes tomorrow’s adult in crisis,” he said. “Most mental health conditions first emerge in childhood — before the age of 14 in 30% of cases, and before the age of 18 in nearly 50% of people with mental illness.

“Early diagnosis and proper treatment can vastly improve a child’s or adolescent’s chances for a good quality of life later on.

This project was a vision a few years ago, but, thanks to the generosity of the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation, and the support of our legislators, today we can break ground and make it a reality.”