Pediatric Wing Coming to WellStone

By Karen Peterson
Director of Development

As a mother of two, I’ve made countless trips to local Emergency Departments. Our girls had split chins, broken arms, fever seizures, and more. We knew, without question, that to get our children’s physical emergencies appropriately assessed, diagnosed, and treated, we went to the ER.

If only it were that simple for children experiencing mental health emergencies, with conditions that can’t be identified through X-Rays, urine samples, or throat swabs. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports one in six adolescents experience a mental illness every year; up to 3 million have serious thoughts of suicide. Yet nowhere in Huntsville—Alabama’s largest city—can you find inpatient psychiatric care for kids.

“Everyone agrees that children in our community need and deserve compassionate inpatient crisis care without having to travel far from home,” said Jeremy Blair, CEO of WellStone, North Alabama’s largest mental healthcare provider. 

That’s why WellStone, under Blair’s leadership, is building a pediatric wing adjacent to its new WellStone Emergency Services building at 4020 Memorial Parkway SW. WES, the region’s first inpatient facility for mental health and substance use crises, opened for adults last October. Now it’s the kids’ turn. 

“There have been a lot of gaps in Alabama’s continuum of mental healthcare, especially in crisis situations,” explained Blair. “WES is already making a huge difference for adults in crisis. We urgently need to do the same for children.”

While you may not understand mental health crises, too many families do. It’s heartbreaking to watch a child become immobilized by severe depression or anxiety, or plagued by thoughts of self-harm or suicide. These tough situations are often made worse for children when they’re transported hours away to receive care.

“Our granddaughter was struggling with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and needed crisis care,” JJ Jayne shared. “After an anxious 21-hour wait in the ER, she was taken, by ambulance, four hours away to Luverne, Alabama.”

Jayne’s granddaughter was one of 800 children transported out-of-county for inpatient mental healthcare in 2022. That number doesn’t include families who bypass ERs, driving directly to out-of-county, or out-of-state, pediatric hospitals. 

“It’s important that everyone in our community has access to care. Anytime. Anywhere,” added Blair. “If a child needs inpatient crisis care, they should have a high-quality option close to home. Being taken far from family can sometimes be more traumatic than the crisis itself.” 

Blair says the community can expect a groundbreaking on a pediatric wing later this year. The architectural firm Chapman Sisson recently completed renderings for the 12,000 sq. ft., 24-bed unit. The design features whimsical nooks, open spaces, and plenty of natural light. WellStone will seek support from the state, local governments, private foundations, and individual donors. From its inception, North Alabama legislators have been supportive of the pediatric crisis center concept. They continue to review funding options from the state’s perspective.

WellStone will host its annual Beacon of Hope celebration, featuring keynote speaker Lauren Sisler, at the Jackson Center on Thursday, May 18th. Proceeds will support this transformational project.
To reserve your seat, please visit: 

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