Three woman and one man stand with a large check.
(L to R) Tamie Fennell, Shrin Murthy, Debby Doig and a staff member from Children's Hospital Colorado. Credit: Courtesy of Becky Miller

Standing behind a large check, Debby Doig stood proud knowing that in just a year and a half, Rotary Clubs of Colorado raised a over $500,000to fund the Rotary Endowed Fellowship for Pediatric Mental Health at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

With a goal to recruit and train pediatric psychiatry providers, the Rotary Club of Highlands Ranch partnered with Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Pediatric Mental Health Institute to fund the increased need for treating local youth.

Through the Rotary Endowed Fellowship, a fellow will be chosen next spring and is anticipated to make on average more than 1,000 patient visits per year during the fellowship. 

Martine Hyland, senior director for the Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation, worked with the Rotary Club to create the endowed fellowship.

“Endowed fellowships enable Children’s Hospital Colorado to compete for the most promising medical talent and ensure that our community has a pool of accomplished caregivers to meet society’s increasingly complex healthcare needs,” said Hyland. 

It all started when Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a state of emergency for youth mental health in May of 2021. 

A few months later, in October, a national state of emergency was declared by the Children’s Hospital Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Doig, the chair of the Highlands Ranch Rotary Foundation, Shrin Murthy and Tamie Fennel looked at one another and knew they needed to make a change.

As members of the Rotary Club of Highlands Ranch have been impacted by mental health in their own lives, a small group began meeting to discuss the best way to make a positive impact on the urgent pediatric mental health crisis in the state. 

Together, they formed the Pediatric Mental Health Committee with a goal to implement impactful philanthropic partnerships with leading Colorado pediatric mental health service providers to help improve behavioral health services across the state. 

“We did some research,” said Doig. “We talked to nonprofits and for-profits, schools and providers and realized that one of the issues among many, is the lack of professionals in the field.”

Suicide is the leading cause of death for youth starting at the age of 10 in Colorado, according to Children’s Hospital Colorado. 

Compared to 2019, there was a 72% increase in behavioral health emergency visits at Children’s Hospital Colorado. 

Doig said research also shows that unprecedented workforce turnover and providers resulted in inadequate mental health support and access to care to prevent children from escalating to crisis levels. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five children is living with a mental health disorder, but less than 50% will never receive appropriate treatment. 

After the committee spoke and collaborated with community leaders, mental health advocates and leading health providers in the area, they decided to focus their program on addressing access to care and provider shortages. 

There were many reasons why the committee chose to partner with Children’s Hospital Colorado as stated in the committee’s program narrative. 

One being the hospital is one of six hospitals that have a psychiatric and behavioral health program and they treat children from all 64 Colorado counties. 

The Rotary Club of Highlands Ranch started the project by donating $50,000 and more through individual donations. 

Doig and other rotary members drove across the Front Range and into Summit County, visiting numerous rotary clubs to deliver their message and ask for support.

“These kids need help now,” said Doig. “Families need help now. And that’s why we went to the clubs and we say it’s not like (Children’sHospital Colorado) is putting a timeline on us, we’ve created our timeline because we need to be out on the forefront.” 

Over 40 clubs from across the state donated funds and international districts such as 5450, 5440 and 5470 provided support. 

The endowed fellowship

Two women and a man standing together in white coats.
(L to R): Debby Doig, Shrin Murthy and Tamie Fennell stand together after receiving Children’s Hospital Colorado doctors jackets. The three attended a reception where they presented a check to Children’s Hospital Colorado to help youth have access to mental health care. Credit: Courtesy of Becky Miller

Doig, Murthy and Fennell attended a reception at the Anschutz campus in Aurora where they presented the $500,000 check to the Children’s Hospital on Oct. 3. 

The program also received two Rotary-affiliated grants: the 2023 Melly Kinnard Mental Health Award and the Hayes Family Mental Health Award. 

In addition, the Rotary Clubs of Colorado Endowed Fellowship for Pediatric Mental Health will be recognized on the Donor Wall at the Children’s Hospital Colorado Anschutz campus. 

When asked if it had sunk in that Doig was able to raise that amount of money, she said it didn’t until that night. 

“I looked out and saw so many of the people that helped support us,” said Doig. 

The endowment’s investment will be used to support a Colorado Rotary Fellow and will exist in perpetuity. 

Every couple of years, a new Colorado Rotary Fellow will be named and overtime, will create a cohort of Colorado Rotary Fellows, adding to the state’s mental health workforce. 

Fellowships are generally three-year training programs for physicians who have completed their residencies in a particular specialty and funds from this endowed fellowship will be used to enhance fellows’ training, which involves mentorship, travel to academic conferences and research. 

“A pediatric mental health fellowship is a training program that exposes early-career doctors to clinical rotations across Children’s [hospital],” said Hyland. 

The training includes emergency psychiatry, consultation and integrated care with medical specialty teams, inpatient psychiatric care and outpatient psychotherapy as well as medication management. 

Pediatric mental health fellows are important because it helps increase access to care and they are actively involved in research, said Hyland. They improve treatments, evaluate screening tools, identify risk factors, build predictive models and discover novel therapies. 

Although the committee will not be part of the hiring process, they will have the chance to meet the chosen individuals. 

“What we’re trying to do is make conversation happen in a way that people feel open to not only talk about it but get help and not be so stigmatized,” said Doig.

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