Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s initiative to address the mental health crisis took a major leap forward with the announcement that the foundation of David and Helen Zalik will donate 10 acres of prime land with two large buildings for a new campus.
The property, which is valued at more than $34 million, is located along the I-85 access road near Children’s North Druid Hills campus.
The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Zalik Behavioral and Mental Health Center will be entirely dedicated to pediatric behavioral and mental health.
David Zalik is co-founder and CEO of the financial technology company GreenSky. The Atlanta-based company has facilitated $16 billion in loans for home improvement projects via a network of banks and 13,000 contractors, according to press reports.
At age 4, David moved to the U.S. from Israel, with family roots in Australia, Argentina and China. He is now CEO of GreenSky, which business magazines referred to as a “fintech unicorn.”
It streamlines the process of attaining consumer loans through a mobile app that partners with banks. Helen referred to her husband as “having a brain going a hundred-thousand miles an hour” and persevering through business failures and ultimate success.
David Zalik has had numerous successes in his professional career, starting at a young age. A math whiz, he bypassed high school and began attending college at Auburn University — also Apple CEO Tim Cook’s alma mater — at age 14. (He actually began taking courses at Auburn at 12 after scoring off the charts on a standardized test.)
Following in his father’s footsteps, Zalik studied mathematics and launched his first business, MicroTech Information Systems, while a freshman in college. MicroTech assembled computers and sold them to students.
The business took off, and Zalik expanded, selling refurbished computers to corporations and eventually offering software as well.
For eight years Zalik ran MicroTech Information Systems out of Auburn, Alabama. Like many tech success stories, Zalik was so successful so soon, he eventually dropped out of Auburn.
In 1996 he sold the company, moved to Atlanta and founded two more companies — Phoenix and Outweb — using the MicroTech sale proceeds, which numbered “in the millions,” Zalik told Bloomberg.
Helen Zalik was a Jewish Educational Loan Fund recipient upon entering the University of Pennsylvania in 1989. With a JELF loan and help from her immigrant parents from the Soviet Union, she went on to graduate Duke University Law School, pursue a legal career, and eventually secure a job as general counsel.
Along with husband David, they formed a foundation to further education for the next generation.
Above all, she shared her inspiration from Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl (author of “Man’s Search for Meaning”), who spoke of happiness as an unintended consequence and byproduct of success. She concluded, “Living well is not the end result.”
Helen co-founded Jewish Women’s Connection of Atlanta and has served on numerous executive boards including Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and Emory University Center for Ethics.
“So many families are touched by behavioral and mental health issues — it’s truly something that impacts everyone, and the crisis is growing exponentially,” said Helen Zalik in a statement.
“We are humbled by this unique opportunity to provide tzedakah (Hebrew word for philanthropy) to help Children’s further enhance its standing as a healthcare provider at the forefront of answering the call for help and for it to become a leading model for other children’s hospitals working to address the mental health crisis.
The property donation is just the latest move towards Children’s developing one of the most comprehensive research and treatment programs for kids experiencing behavioral and mental health issues in the United States.
“In 2019, our board approved a strategy, and they also set aside at the time $400 million of the endowment to fund mental behavioral health,” Donna Hyland, Children’s president and CEO, said during a Webex interview on Tuesday. That endowment has now grown to $566 million, and it is generating $28.3 million annually to fund the new initiative.
The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation also gave Children’s a $10 million grant in 2020 to support its efforts in pediatric behavioral and mental health.
Recently Children’s brought on nationally renowned child psychiatrist Dr. John N. Constantino as chief of behavioral and mental health, who will develop a best-in-class program to stem the youth mental health crisis.
“We now have this luminary here,” Hyland said, adding that Children’s was able to recruit him from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he had spent his professional career, by offering him an opportunity to create one of the most comprehensive programs for pediatric mental health.
Constantino said there have been significant new innovations that were not getting implemented into routine care and health systems.
“When this opportunity came up, in which Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as a health system, aspires to deliver to its population and is open-minded to implementing real innovations… it became one of the great opportunities of my lifetime,” Constantino said.
Children’s has a four-pillar plan to become a leader in pediatric behavioral and mental health by innovating treatments, transforming access, pioneering prevention and building a strong foundation for future growth.
Since 2015, the annual number of children visiting Children’s emergency departments for behavioral or emotional crises has doubled, currently totaling over 4,000 per year with an average age of 9 years old.
Children’s plans to accelerate response to the mental health needs of children already receiving medical care in its system — 60 percent of whom are on Medicaid — which is reflective of Georgia as a whole.
Hyland and Constantino touted new legislation, championed by Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, passed earlier this year to expand health care services for mental and behavioral health.
Children’s plans to use the existing buildings in the new Zalik campus so it can devote its resources to programs, treatment and research rather than capital expenses.
Currently there are no plans to provide inpatient services on the campus. Instead, Children’s is working in collaboration with inpatient programs to provide care before and after hospitalization in a facility.
Constantino said that Children’s stance is “as soon as that episode of inpatient care is finished, we will take that child back into our outpatient realm, and we will make sure that we are the owners of the recovery.”
By delivering outpatient care before and after, Children’s can help make sure there is a greater chance for a full recovery of youth struggling with mental health and even addiction issues.
As Constantino said: “That is the continuum of care that’s going to move the needle on the mental health of the Georgia population.”