Improving children's access to behavioral health care

When a child is experiencing a mental health crisis, it may be difficult for parents to know what to do or where to go. Often times, a child ends up in the emergency room, where there may not be specialized care to handle the case. 

According to the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health, kids and teens in Wisconsin are hospitalized for a mental health condition at a higher rate than the national average. Additionally, suicide was the second leading cause of death among adolescents in 2017.

To help increase access to needed specialized care for kids in Wisconsin, United Health Foundation has awarded Children’s Wisconsin in Milwaukee a three-year, $2.5 million grant to establish a crisis response team in the emergency department (ED). The team will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for children with behavioral health needs. This will be the first urgent mental health system of care dedicated solely to pediatric patients in southeast Wisconsin.

The establishment of a crisis response team helps address a critical need. Currently, families must either go to the Milwaukee County Psychiatric Crisis Service, a local emergency room or wait for an outpatient appointment. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been an added stressor on some young people, hospitals experienced an increase in visits by children for mental health emergenciesThe grant partnership will help address this growing need and provide a more seamless continuum of care.

Children’s estimates the new team will help support 800 kids a year. The mental and behavioral health crisis response team will consist of:

  • A pediatric psychiatrist
  • Three mental and behavioral health social workers and a supervisor
  • A mental and behavioral health navigator to help patients with access to care and care transitions

Children’s Wisconsin is the state’s only independent health care system dedicated solely to the health and well-being of children. Last November, Children’s announced a five-year plan to help address the growing mental and behavioral health crisis facing Wisconsin kids. The plan includes doubling the number of mental and behavioral health providers the system employs to help detect mental and behavioral health needs sooner, improving access to services and reducing the stigma around mental illness.

“We recognize that we must do more to support the mental and behavioral health needs of our kids,” said Peggy Troy, president and CEO of Children’s Wisconsin. “While the ultimate goal is to identify and provide resources before a crisis occurs, improving services in our emergency department is a step we need to take right now.”

Of the average 800 mental and behavioral health cases Children’s sees in its ED per year, 1 out of 10 visits are defined as a repeat encounter. This new model of care aims to help reduce that number.

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