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The philanthropy of the Simches family spans generations; the beneficiaries include a host of programs, organizations, and initiatives throughout Massachusetts and Israel. “Our family has always had a commitment to philanthropy,” said Nancy Simches. “The spirit of giving back, whether through volunteering or financial largesse, is a long-standing tradition started by my father, continued by my late husband and me, and embraced by our children and grandchildren.”
But, in the case of McLean Hospital, the story behind this family’s generosity is even more compelling and deeply personal.
Joanne, the youngest of Nancy and Richard Simches’s three daughters, was a gentle, sensitive, and caring young woman. Compassionate by nature, “she had a special gift with children,” explained Nancy. “They were drawn to her kind and loving spirit.”
Yet, she struggled to find her way in the world as she fought serious depression. “While there were times when the sun came through, my daughter suffered for many years with the darkness of her condition,” said Nancy.
Joanne benefited from McLean’s care and the close and sustaining relationships with members of her clinical team. “Here, she felt safe,” shared Nancy. “McLean offered her an oasis from her pain.” Years later, overwhelmed by her depression, Joanne tragically ended her life—a life still filled with hope and the promise of what might have been. She was only 25 years old.
In memory of their beloved daughter and to honor her valiant struggle, the Simches family created the Joanne B. Simches Fund at McLean in 1991. This endowment funds novel research into child and adolescent psychiatric disorders, and complements the family’s annual support of programmatic initiatives within the clinical units.
Now, the Simches family has done something unprecedented: endowed the hospital’s newest division and lent their name to it—the Nancy and Richard Simches Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
“On behalf of the entire hospital, I thank Nancy and her family for their extraordinary vision and generous support of McLean in general and to the child and adolescent programs in particular,” said McLean President and Psychiatrist in Chief Scott L. Rauch, MD. “Without their philanthropy, it would have been impossible to accomplish so much of what we have achieved over the past decade.”
The Simches Division’s first order of business has been strengthening the underpinnings of McLean’s innovative and wide-ranging clinical programs for young people. “Our leadership team has spent the past 12 years revitalizing services for children and adolescents and introducing new programs across geographical sites and diagnostic specialties,” explained Simches Division Chief Joseph Gold, MD, also McLean’s chief medical officer. “We are now entering a phase of measuring the efficacy and value of those services.”
According to Gold, it is critical to have an accurate diagnosis for every young patient and the expertise to deliver the most effective care on the first try.
Toward this end, the division has enlisted Randy Auerbach, PhD, director, Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Laboratory, whom Gold calls a rising star in depression research, to design and implement the tools that will help clinicians more accurately diagnose young patients on the front end and measure outcomes after care has been rendered.
“There is no place like McLean, where treatment, research, and education are so intertwined,” said Nancy, who trained as a social worker and understands that mental illness, left untreated, doesn’t get better. “We hope our gift sets an example that can be built upon and that will help more children at the earliest possible time.”
Other important goals of the Simches Division include better integrating levels of care on campus and at satellite sites, expanding consultation services, and increasing training opportunities for clinicians and research staff.
The Simches Division is the fourth McLean division created in accordance with the hospital’s strategic plan. The other divisions include the Substance Use Disorders Division, led by Roger D. Weiss, MD; the Psychotic Disorders Division, led by Dost Öngür, MD, PhD; and the Basic Neuroscience Division, led by Joseph Coyle, MD.
“Our support of McLean is our daughter’s legacy, a tribute both to her personal struggle and to the uncompromised care she received at McLean.” said Nancy. “We hope the research supported by Joanne’s fund and the activities of this new division will help us to better understand mental illness and suggest new treatments for those who struggle before it is too late.”