“Behavioral health patients tend to stay longer compared with standard emergency department patients. When you look at the behavioral health patients coming to the ED, the pediatric patients tend to stay significantly longer than the adult patients do,” Mass General’s Seger said. “We’re seeing a lot more pediatric patients.”
Only about 1 in 5 children with a psychiatric illness get to see a mental health professional in the U.S., said Dr. Susan Swick, executive developer of Montage Health’s Ohana House, a center for child and adolescent behavioral health at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California, designed by NBBJ. Behavioral health access for children has likely waned as families have been locked in the house together, with drug and alcohol use increasing, routines interrupted, financial stresses mounting and loved ones dying, she said.
“We’ve seen an accelerated pattern of an increased rate of anxiety, mood disorders and substance use. Consequently, it is harder to access services,” Swick said. “People can’t get access to care, so they end up in crisis and come to the ED where they stay for days, if not weeks, waiting for a bed.”
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Ohana is a 55,000-square-foot, 16-bed residential and outpatient facility for children and adolescents set to open next year. The family-centered clinical program and construction were funded by a $106 million donation. Ohana sends child therapists to local middle schools to try to establish early intervention strategies. It offers a full spectrum of mental health services, including evaluation, treatment and prevention programs such as occupational therapy and art and music classes.
About 1 in 6 high school students throughout California considered suicide in 2020; 1 in 3 suffered from depression, according to the California Healthy Kids Survey. Nationwide, mental health ED visits increased 24% from April to October 2020 for kids ages 5 to 11, data from the Milbank Memorial Fund show. Such visits increased 31% for youth ages 12 to 17 during that time.