Erma Conn has worked with children with mental and behavioral health needs for 35 years. In that time, she’s seen the community’s need grow.
“We can help a lot of children, but there’s so many more out there,” says Conn, program coordinator, Family Engagement Outreach, Matilda H. Theiss Child Development Center.
UPMC is working to address the growing demand. In 2023, UPMC opened two facilities aimed at providing behavioral, emotional, and mental health support for children, adolescents, and teens.
In January 2023, UPMC Western Behavioral Health opened a new Child and Adolescent Services facility on Pittsburgh’s South Side. It caters to children and adolescents with emotional and mental health needs. Families are partners every step of the way.
Then, in August 2023, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh opened a pediatric behavioral walk-in clinic on its Lawrenceville campus. UPMC Children’s partnered with UPMC Western Behavioral Health for the clinic. Children up to 18 years old can visit for a variety of behavioral health concerns.
These facilities are aimed at helping children in need.
“Improving access to behavioral health for our children and teens is a priority at UPMC Children’s, as the numbers are steadily increasing for this age group seeking this type of support,” says Diane Hupp, president, UPMC Children’s. “We want this to be another way for families to seek care in a pediatric setting and allow children and teens to feel safe to talk about any concern they may have.”
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About UPMC’s South Side Behavioral Health Facility for Children
UPMC Western Behavioral Health opened its new Child and Adolescent Services facility in January 2023 on Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side. It has services for:
- Children and adolescents who have experienced trauma.
- Children with autism and developmental needs.
- Pregnant women and new mothers experiencing mental health burdens.
- Young children with emotional and behavioral needs.
“The site is really focused on young children and adolescents — families where the children are experiencing behavioral, social, and emotional problems,” says Tamara Marsico, MSN, clinical director of Children’s Behavioral Health Services at UPMC Western Behavioral Health. “Some have experienced very complex trauma and are emotionally distraught.
“The benefit of serving this population of children and families is that we can change people’s lives.”
The new facility offers a wide range of behavioral health services for children and adolescents. The resources include:
- Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders (CADD): Offering behavioral health care for people with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities.
- Child and adolescent trauma services: Helping children and adolescents who are dealing with the effects of trauma and traumatic events like abuse and neglect. It includes diagnostic evaluations and treatment designed specifically for children and adolescents.
- Cool Zone: Providing treatments for children ages 3 to 8 with hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, social skills deficits, anxiety, depression, trauma, and other behavioral health problems. The treatments take place in a child-friendly space that includes an igloo. Cool Zones are a partnership with the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation.
- Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI): Providing one-on-one behavior support for children up to age 5 with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disorders.
- Matilda Theiss Interactive Mobile Parent and Child Therapy (IMPACT): Providing a brief-treatment, mobile therapy program for children, families, and caregivers in their communities. It helps children who are diagnosed with or at risk of mental health disorders.
- Matilda Theiss Therapeutic Nursery and Preschool: Providing treatment for children ages 3 to 6 with significant emotional or behavioral health disorders. The treatment takes place in an early-learning classroom setting and is individualized and child-centered.
- New and Expectant Mothers Specialized Treatment (NEST): Providing resources for pregnant and postpartum women dealing with mental health burdens like mood disorders.
- Theiss Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH): Helping children from infancy to 7 years old who are experiencing anxiety, depression, aggression, impulsivity, trauma, or other behavioral health problems. The program provides evaluations and treatment options for those young children.
- Therapeutic Early Autism Program (TEAP): Offering intensive treatment in a preschool setting for children with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disorders in both one-on-one and small group settings.
UPMC Western Behavioral Health offered many of these programs at the UPMC Matilda H. Theiss Health Center in the Hill District. But the new, larger South Side facility allows them to expand and provide more services to more families.
“East Carson Street is a combination of programs that have relocated to this site and also some programs that are expanding, since we have more space than some of our other sites,” Marsico says.
“Our Theiss program for trauma services has been well established to provide evidence-based treatment for young children. We have expanded at this site to offer services for adolescents who experience trauma and their families.”
“To have a program for trauma care for all ages — it’s just awesome,” Conn says. “Some children have had trauma while in the womb. And then, a lot of times, when they come into this world, it’s just more trauma on top of it. So, those children being able to come here from infancy all the way up to 18 and have a therapist working with them, starting very young, will make a difference.”
A Child-Friendly Design
UPMC Western Behavioral Health Child and Adolescent Services at East Carson Street caters to children ages 0 to 17. Because of that, the planners wanted to create a facility where children of all ages could feel comfortable.
“It is a welcoming, warm environment as soon as you walk in,” Marsico says. “This is a place for children. It’s very colorful. It doesn’t look like an office. It doesn’t look like a mental health facility. It looks like a place where children can learn and grow, much like a preschool.
“The benefit is the children and families love it, and it helps to decrease the stigma associated with mental health treatment.”
Many of the treatment areas are classroom settings instead of a hospital design. The facility features artwork with pieces that local artist Baron Batch produced.
Some of the artwork in the facility is tactile or interactive, giving children a chance to experience art in different ways. The facility also has toys and a playground for play therapy.
“It’s a place you would want to come,” Conn says. “You might be coming here for treatment, but you feel like, ‘I’m just going to play.'”
Marsico says the excitement carries over to the staff, who she says are “dedicated and devoted.” At full capacity, the facility will have more than 100 staff members.
“When I am here, it’s my happy zone,” Marsico says. “It feels warm. The staff working with the kids and families are energized, they’re happy, they appreciate their work environment. It’s a really feel-good place to be. It is a dream come true.”
About the Pediatric Behavioral Health Walk-In Clinic at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
The Pediatric Behavioral Health Walk-In Clinic is located on the third floor of UPMC Children’s in Lawrenceville. The clinic is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
Children and teens up to age 18 can walk in to the clinic with a parent or guardian and receive same-day care. No appointment is required.
Therapists and psychologists are available to provide care, including behavioral assessments and one-time therapeutic interventions. They also can connect patients and families to behavioral health resources in the community if further help is needed. They can coordinate care with pediatricians, schools, and other members of the child’s care team.
The clinic can provide care for many different behavioral health situations, including:
- Anxiety or stress.
- Difficulty focusing.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Lack of interest in family or social activities.
- Loss of appetite.
- Loss or grief.
- Panic attacks.
- Relationship challenges.
- School avoidance.
- Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-injury.
“As the new school year begins, many children and teens can be stressed, anxious, or even struggling with their classes, which can cause parents to worry,” says Abigail Schlesinger, MD, clinical chief, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Integrated Care, UPMC Western Behavioral Health and UPMC Children’s. “We are here to help families through this and during any period of their child’s life.
“This clinic will offer support and partner with the child’s existing care team to continue providing safe resources at home and in the community.”
The walk-in clinic does not replace psychiatric emergency services (PES) and is not appropriate for children and teens who may need hospitalization. For extreme mental health crises, children and their families should seek immediate attention at PES at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital or their nearest emergency department.
The walk-in clinic also does not provide medication management or medical care at this time.
How UPMC’s Expanded Behavioral Services Are Helping Children
The new Child and Adolescent Services facility on the South Side and the UPMC Children’s Behavioral Health Walk-In Clinic will help address the growing need for behavioral health care for children and teens.
UPMC Western Behavioral Health is expanding many of its services in the new South Side facility. That will allow it to help more children and adolescents with mental, behavioral, and emotional health problems.
Marsico says they now can help about 220 more families per year. The facility will help around 450 families across its different programs.
“That’s quite an impact on helping Pittsburgh communities to have more access to services,” Marsico says.
Children’s mental health needs increased in recent years, according to a 2022 report from the American Psychological Association. The demand for mental health services for children is at an all-time high, the report says. The COVID-19 pandemic was one culprit, but it isn’t the only cause, Marsico says.
“There’s just been a surge of need,” she says. “So, opening this facility does help us meet some of that need.”
UPMC Western Behavioral Health’s treatments are all evidence-based. And the staff has geared them toward providing support for children, adolescents, and their families.
Providing mental health support to children can help them later in life, Marsico says.
“The earlier a child receives support for any type of mental health challenges, the more likely they are to have a good quality of life in the future,” she says. “They’re more likely to have friendships, good relationships, and do better academically.”
Over her 35 years of working with children, Conn says she’s seen many examples of how treatment can help children and adolescents with mental, emotional, and behavioral conditions.
“It’s just such a great feeling to see that we can help these children,” she says. “You can see them learning how to engage, how to maintain, how to help themselves.”
As the community’s mental health needs continue to change, UPMC’s new facility will continue to adapt as well.
Marsico says UPMC Western Behavioral Health is ramping up the services they already offer at the South Side facility. They plan to add even more programs in the future. UPMC Western Behavioral Health works with local government offices to address the community’s biggest needs.
The new facility will also enable UPMC Western Behavioral Health to connect to more community organizations that help children in need. Conn works with nonprofits and organizations to help provide families with resources.
“Being in a different location, there’s always an opportunity to find new friends and providers,” Conn says. “We’re going to go out and make it happen, just like we did (in the Hill District). It’s just finding those places that are in the community, reaching out to them, and starting to build those relationships.”
For more information about the South Side facility’s services, call UPMC Western Behavioral Health at 412-235-5444.
The UPMC Children’s Behavioral Health Walk-In Clinic supplements the hospital’s existing behavioral health services for kids. Clinical evaluators are available in the emergency department to help provide assessments and resources for children and families. Psychologists from the Behavioral Science Division are available for inpatients and outpatients. A behavioral health nurse clinician works with inpatients.
For more information about the UPMC Children’s Behavioral Health Clinic, visit our website.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.