Dr. Matthew Biel and his team at Georgetown University
Category: Gift Announcement, Giving News

Title:The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation establishes chair in Child, Adolescent, and Family Mental Health at Georgetown

The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott (JWASM) Foundation has pledged $3 million to establish the Marriott Endowed Chair in Child, Adolescent, and Family Mental Health, the first endowed chair in the Department of Psychiatry and the latest in a long line of investments by the JWASMĀ  Foundation in Georgetown University and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in support of childhood mental wellness.

The inaugural Marriott Chair is Matthew Biel, M.D. M.Sc., whose work addresses the impact of adversity and stress upon underserved children and families, reduces health disparities, improves access to mental health care, and develops clinical interventions.

“We are grateful for The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation’s longtime support of Matthew Biel’s leadership in improving equitable access to mental health care for young people,” says Edward B. Healton, M.D., MPH, executive vice president for health sciences and executive dean of the School of Medicine. “This gift will help support Georgetown University and Medstar Georgetown University Hospital as we collaborate to address the challenges of child mental health from various perspectives of research, service, and clinical work.”

“With The JWASM Foundation’s remarkable $3 million gift, we will further advance our work to foster the social and mental wellbeing of under-resourced children and families in our area in concert with local health care providers and schools,” says Mike Sachtleben, senior vice president and chief operating officer of MedStar Health’s Washington region and president of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “The endowed chair position created by this gift will enable Dr. Biel to explore new ways to ensure that MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Georgetown are supporting children’s mental health care for generations to come through robust community initiatives, extensive clinical research, and focused academic instruction.”

Improving children’s mental health by understanding families

Biel and his team employ a multigenerational approach to research, clinical work, and advocacy by seeking to holistically understand and support children in the context of their families. The Marriott Chair provides an infrastructure for Biel and his teammates to create a future center focused on improving mental health for children and familiesā€”and in doing so, transform communities.

“Mentally healthy kids are the cornerstone of a healthy society,” Biel says. “Brain development is so profound and significant in early childhood. When we create environments that promote healthy relationships and healthy brains, our children will be in a much better position to flourish throughout their lives.”

The future center will provide an umbrella structure for expanded clinical programs for children, adolescents, young adults, and their parents and families, as well as research and scholarship, educational and training, and community engagement and advocacy.

“This gift allows us to strengthen Georgetown’s reputation as a national thought leader in child and family mental health,” Biel says. “The JWASM Foundation’s generosity and vision affirms the work we have done over the last 15 years, producing meaningful and useful scholarship, providing outstanding clinical care, training capable clinicians and researchers, and forming powerful collaborations with members of our community.”

Reducing stress through community resources

Many stressors affect the mental health of children from underserved communities in Washington, D.C., including economic stress, housing insecurity, food insecurity, insufficient access to health care, and discrimination.

“This is a time of enormous cumulative stress on families, and kids often suffer,” Biel says. “We have a mental health crisis with unprecedented rates of distress in young people.”

Biel notes that a lack of social and community support can hurt caregivers’ wellbeingā€”sometimes through undiagnosed mental illness or unrecognized substance abuseā€”and affect their children. He and his colleagues aim to strengthen support systems for families in education, health care, and community services.

“We’re creating the capacity for the systems that are designed to serve families to do so more effectively and efficiently, with more evidence and a more collaborative spirit,” Biel says. “That’s why we’re working with preschools, K-12 schools, and health care clinics in order to make mental health a part of every school experience and health care visit.”

Collaborating across Washington, D.C.

The JWASM Foundation has a long history of supporting MedStar Georgetown University Hospital through the Medical/Surgical Pavilion and grants to the Early Childhood Innovation Network (ECIN), which Biel co-directs with Lee Ann Savio Beers, M.D., of Children’s National Hospital.

ECIN is a citywide collaborative of health and education providers, community-based organizations, researchers, and advocates in Washington, D.C., that has brought clinical services, parenting classes, and mental health resources to more than 6,000 families. By reaching kids ages 5 and under with early interventions, ECIN works with communities and familiesā€”particularly in Wards 7 and 8ā€”to foster lifelong mental health and educational achievement. Interventions target parent mental health, parent-child relationships, teacher skills and wellbeing, screening and intervention for peripartum concerns in women, and early identification of mental health concerns for kids in primary care.

Before establishing the Marriott Chair, The JWASM Foundation awarded consecutive long-term grants to fund the launch and continued work of ECIN, led by Biel and Beers.

“The Marriott Family has long understood the high return on investments focused on the early years of a child’s life,” says Mieka Wick, executive director of The JWASM Foundation. “Our seed grant to ECIN in 2015 served as a critical first step in advancing the mental health ecosystem for young children and their families in Washington, D.C. We were proud to award an initial grant of $6 million, which supported ECIN’s launch and provided the platform on which to develop and refine their work.” Since then, The JWASM Foundation has supported ECIN with an additional $7 million in grants.

Caring for the whole community

Through the Marriott Chair, Biel can recruit promising scholars in child and family mental health to the Georgetown faculty, acquire new tools to improve patient experience, develop clinical programs for caregivers and young children, expand the size of translational research efforts to support family mental health, and deepen trusting relationships with community partners. Biel says it has been crucial for ECIN to work in deep collaboration with local partner organizations with community expertise.

“We made sure we weren’t just helicoptering in with our own ideas as academics and clinicians and researchers,” Biel says. “We co-develop ideas with families and community leaders to do the most relevant possible work.”

“As a funder, it is critical that we ask and listen to those in the community about what they need as opposed to entering any environment assuming our answers are the right ones,” Wick says. “Dr. Biel’s leadership at ECIN has always put the community and its constituents at the center.”

Biel believes that ECIN’s work, bolstered by the Marriott Chair, will serve Georgetown’s responsibility to care for the greater Washington, D.C., community.

“Georgetown has a critical role in leading work that promotes a more just world,” Biel says. “The effects of inequality are having such clear impacts on the health of our city’s citizens, and mental health is one of the areas of most critical disparity. This is an awesome opportunity for the university to lean into its ethos, its values, its mission, and its responsibility as a neighbor.”