COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A children’s hospital in Colorado has declared “a pediatric mental health state of emergency” after an unprecedented number of children 8 and older have reported needing immediate treatment, mostly for suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Children’s Hospital Colorado CEO Jena Hausmann said the facility is overrun with “kids attempting suicide and suffering from other forms of major mental health illness.”
Hausmann issued a call to action on Tuesday to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, state lawmakers, and agencies to prioritize mental health services for children, release more funding for suicide prevention, recruit more providers and reduce bureaucracy in enabling children to access services, The Gazette reported.
Children’s Hospital Colorado Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Brumbaugh said between a dozen and two dozen children systemwide may wait hours or days on any given day to get a behavioral health bed. As a result, Hausmann has suggested setting up emergency centers, like those that emerged for COVID-19 patients, to accommodate the overflow.
“It’s been devastating to see suicide become the leading cause of death for Colorado’s children,” Hausmann said.
Children’s Hospital Colorado, which operates 16 urgent, emergency and specialty locations statewide, saw a 72% increase systemwide in behavioral health emergency department visits from January through April compared with the same period in 2019, officials said.
Dr. Jenna Glover, director of psychology training at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, said the concern is that children will develop long-term affects. Children are coping with pandemic stress primarily through substance use, withdrawal from normal involvement and eating-disorder behavior, she said.
“It’s not going to go away next year,” she said. “Now they just have to reengage in life, and they don’t have the resources. They’re burned out. They’re hopeless.”
Colorado Springs has seen a steady increase of children in both group and individual therapy since the coronavirus pandemic began, Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Executive Director Cass Walton said. There was a “surge” the past three months along with more inquiries from parents needing help navigating the system and seeking advice, she said.
“Our community is responding to this complex issue,” Walton said. “But it is going to take time and resources to really get a handle on it.”
Brumbaugh noted a sense of urgency for the Children’s Hospital Colorado as three to four teens attempt suicide a week and beds at the facility are completely full.
Children’s Hospital Colorado is now expanding several campuses to add inpatient and outpatient mental health beds and services, including in Colorado Springs.