Children’s Hospital Colorado declares ‘state of emergency’ for pediatric mental health
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Children’s Hospital Colorado declared last week that Colorado is experiencing a “state of emergency” for pediatric mental health, sounding the alarm about a greater need for mental health resources in the state.
“Our children are experiencing unprecedented levels of pediatric mental health issues,” said Jena Hausmann, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.
Dr. David Brumbaugh, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said Tuesday that in his 20 years in practice he has never seen anything like the demand he’s seen for pediatric mental health services over the past 15 months, but especially over the last three to four months.
Our inpatient behavioral and mental health resources have been completely tapped during the pandemic,” he said. “The supply has not met the demand.”
The demand for acute behavioral health services has increased by 90% in 2021 compared to 2019, he said, almost completely doubling. For many weeks during 2021, the top reason for presenting to the emergency department has been due to a suicide attempt, he said.
He teared up while discussing a conversation he had with the father of a high school boy who had attempted suicide.
“Our kids have run out of resilience,” he said. “Their tank is empty.”
Chief nursing officer Pat Givens said that the hospital system does not have enough capacity for the number of children in crisis.
“We can’t build enough beds to keep pace with the demand,” she said.
Children with behavioral health needs are now being placed in medical or surgical beds because of the shortage while they wait for a bed in a behavioral unit, she said. Children as young as eight years old have come to the hospital after suicide attempts.
A string of unrelated suicides attempts among Aurora children earlier this month prompted the city and police to put together an awareness campaign.
Kids have dealt with chronic stress for the past year and now that the pandemic is winding down they are feeling extremely overwhelmed, said Dr. Jenna Glover, director of psychology training at Children’s Hospital.
“Now kids are asked to be starting back into life again and many of them feel behind and completely unprepared to go back to regular functioning, which is making them feel completely overwhelmed,” she said.
To cope with mental health issues, many children and adolescents are turning to substance abuse or developing eating disorders, Glover said.
If children do not get treatment now because of a shortage of resources, the fear is that they will develop chronic mental health issues that will continue to impede their development as they grow, she said.
If nothing is done to address the current mental health crisis, Hausmann said she fears that more children will die.
“The increases are occurring at a pace that is unprecedented,” she said.
Partners across the state need to work together “at a much higher level of urgency,” she said, calling on the state government to help cut through the bureaucracy and make this issue a higher priority.
“There is no lack of energy and commitment to get this done, it really is about prioritization, flexibility and resources,” she said.
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