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Help the child, help the community

Inaugural Connaughton Professor Larry Wissow is strengthening ties between the Children's Mental Health Center and East Baltimore, thanks to a gift from the family of a late Hopkins psychiatrist
Posted September 13, 2017
Connaughton Professor Larry Wissow (left) and Children's Mental Health Center Medical Director Ekaterina Stepanova (right) are working to better connect the center with the East Baltimore community, starting with its schools. Connaughton Professor Larry Wissow (left) and Children's Mental Health Center Medical Director Ekaterina Stepanova (right) are working to better connect the center with the East Baltimore community, starting with its schools.

From his office window in a building just east of the Johns Hopkins Hospital dome, Larry Wissow can spot four Baltimore City schools. Today, he can't walk into any of them and be recognized by the front-office staff. But a year from now, he expects to be on a first-name basis with each school's principal, much like Jim Connaughton was with his East Baltimore neighbors half a century ago.

Connaughton, the founding medical director of the Hopkins Children's Mental Health Center, made the institution a pillar of the community. Wissow is the inaugural James P. Connaughton, MD, Master Clinician, Educator, and Professor in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry — a chair endowed by the late physician's family. Joining the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences after two decades as a faculty member in the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Wissow is charged with renewing the CMHC's ties to East Baltimore and addressing the neighborhood's 21st-century needs.

"Our father's great professional passions were training future clinicians and making an impact on children in our most vulnerable communities," says John Connaughton, one of Jim Connaughton's five children whose gifts established the professorship. "It is an honor to see his legacy carry on in an institution committed to these priorities."

"I want the principals to be able to reach either of us on our cell phone. That's the kind of relationship we want to build."
Connaughton Professor Larry Wissow, on his and Ekaterina Stepanova's efforts to engage the East Baltimore community

The department's commitment to East Baltimore predates even Connaughton's time, explains Constantine Lyketsos, the Elizabeth Plank Althouse Professor. Adolph Meyer, the first director of the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic — the original name of the department — mandated that only half the clinic's beds be dedicated to specialty psychiatric patients. The remaining resources were to support the local community. Connaughton took that mission to heart, establishing the CMHC shortly after the 1968 riots to care for East Baltimore's children. As the Connaughton Professor, Wissow carries that mission forward today.

"Larry has methodological rigor and a track record of scientific excellence. He's focused on delivering care to, and understanding the lives of, people who might not otherwise receive care," says Robert Findling, the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor and Director in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Hopkins.

Wissow is applying research, projects, and partnerships he nurtured over his public health career to practical problems hindering mental health service delivery. Specifically, he's looking to break down barriers between child/adolescent and adult psychiatry, as well as between the hospital and the community.

Wissow's efforts, supported by the professorship's resources and a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, include working with Johns Hopkins Hospital, East Baltimore Medical Center, and Bayview Medical Center. By strengthening partnerships between these primary care sites and adult and child mental health services, Wissow says, professionals can intervene earlier when a child experiences mental illness while ensuring the whole family receives assistance that meets its needs and preferences. He's also adapting a course on the societal determinants of health, which he taught for years in the Bloomberg School, to train Hopkins' child and adolescent psychiatry fellows to better recognize the myriad societal factors that influence mental health in children.

Wissow is working alongside Ekaterina Stepanova, the current CMHC medical director, to deepen its relationships with core services throughout Baltimore — such as housing assistance, career development, and substance abuse recovery programs. They want to enable the CMHC to take quick actions to help families in poverty and, in turn, improve the mental health of the children involved. They've already mapped East Baltimore and assigned who gets which doors to knock on — including those for all four schools Wissow sees from his window.

"I want the principals to be able to reach either of us on our cell phone. That's the kind of relationship we want to build with these community institutions around us," Wissow says. "That was really Jim Connaughton's legacy. I think the family very much wants this professorship to push our department back out into the community."

To learn more about how you can support Wissow and other faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, please contact Betsy Rutherford, associate director of development.