A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Children’s Home of NKY/CHNK Behavioral Health raising funds to expand mental health services

By Andy Furman
NKyTribune reporter

At one time he was a priest.

These days his prayers are being answered.

Rick Wurth, the Chief Executive Officer at Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky/CHNK Behavioral Health, joined the organization in October 2010.

Perhaps that was God’s way of helping the youth of Northern Kentucky, as Wurth was a priest prior to joining the non-profit organization.

“I first served as CHNK’s Vice-President for Development in charge of fundraising,” he told the Covington Rotary Club at their noon meeting recently.

In 2012 he was promoted to his current position.

And under his leadership, the agency’s treatment lines have expanded to include addiction treatment, intensive outpatient services, day treatment/partial hospitalization, psychiatric residential treatment, and a therapeutic day school operated in partnership with Covington Independent Schools.

“We’ve raised about $27 million since I’ve started here,” Wurth told the Northern Kentucky Tribune, “that’s about a 434% increase.

But Wurth – and the CHNK want – and need financial assistance to aid in care for mental health.

“The mental health issue,” Wurth said, “is causing Northern Kentucky to implode. This issue is married to substance abuse, and we’re ready now to close the gap with both mental health and addiction issues. In short, we need more help with mental health.”

So, he’s hitting the road – for the initial appeal of $4.5M which will address immediate needs specific to expanding access to mental health services for Northern Kentucky youth and families. “Our hope is that this phase will be followed by a larger, secondary phase supported by a public-private partnership model of funding,” he said.

“I’m taking my presentation on the road,” Wurth said, “Individually, I’m looking for about $150,000.”

His speech seems to be working.

So far, Wurth reports the cities of Union and Elsmere have committed $100,000 each, and Covington has chipped in with a $500,000 check for the non-profit organization.

“The City of Independence,” Wurth told the Northern Kentucky Tribune, “Is currently is discernment about the dollar amount that the city will be committing to the project, but the initial reaction from the mayor and the city commissioners is favorable toward a six-figure investment. No vote has been taken at this point.”

Multiple local judge executives and mayors have received appeals for the project from CHNK. CHNK is working with these local cities and counties to garner support for the project.

Wurth leads a team of 100 healthcare professionals who operate out of three campuses – Burlington, downtown Covington and in Devou Park—offering a full continuum of care for youth and families who have experienced abuse, neglect, addiction and other serious trauma, CHNK’s outpatient and residential treatment services impact over 3,700 individuals each year.

For over a century, Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky/CHNK Behavioral Health has provided critically needed mental health services to the residents of Northern Kentucky and beyond. CHNK’s innovative behavioral healthcare programs impact over 3,000 individuals every year.

Unfortunately, according to Wurth, the extended pandemic has only exacerbated the critical need for addiction treatment and mental health support in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region, having created a dangerous combination of increased family stress and a decline in early warning systems for abuse and neglect.

The result?

An increasingly tragic situation for Kentucky’s most vulnerable children.

Rick Wurth

“Children with disabilities,” he continued, “including mental and behavioral health disorders, are frequently at higher risk for abuse or neglect than children without disabilities. The level of their behavior is such that it generates toxic stress in many family systems and overwhelms the parental capacity to cope. As a result, the youth are at risk of child abuse.”

For some 100 years, the CHNK’s one and only function – an orphanage – which function it still performs.

In the mid 1980s CHNK expanded to help and care for abusive children, and since 2014 mental health and addiction has moved to the forefront for care at CHNK.

If Wurth’s – and CHNK’s – plan is fully-funded, it would allow for the expansion of existing services, the launch of new services, and expanded access to those services for individuals living in Greater Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky. The total investment required to find the proposal is $4,16,768.

The CHNK is a licensed, 501©3 healthcare provider in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Founded in 1882 as a traditional orphanage for youth, the organization has evolved with changing community needs. CHNK now provides trauma-informed mental health and addiction treatment services to thousands of children, adolescents, adults and families in crises each year.

Rick Wurth is spreading his message – just like he did as a priest. And is saving many with his words.

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