Provider News

Seattle Children’s Mental Health ED Patient Surge

May 22, 2024

Seattle Children’s is seeing very high numbers of pediatric patients with mental and behavioral health emergencies who require care in our Emergency Department and/or psychiatry inpatient unit. 

Patients experiencing an emergency should come to the ED without hesitation and should be prepared for potentially long wait times.  

A significant number of patients presenting with mental health concerns are having to wait more than 24 hours in the ED for the next step in care, which may be an inpatient bed in our Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit (PBMU), a transfer to an outside facility or a discharge plan. 

We are asking that you:  

  1. Continue to identify and manage lower-acuity complaints in outpatient settings to help maintain ED capacity for higher-acuity concerns. Please see our Healthcare Professionals site for Resources for Community Providers.
  2. When appropriate, direct patients to urgent care locations, including Seattle Children’s Urgent Care, instead of the ED. Our “Emergency or Urgent Care?” site can help families determine the appropriate care setting. 
  3. Before sending your patient to the ED, contact our Mission Control team with as much notice as possible at 206-987-8899.This helps us plan for your patient’s arrival. In appropriate instances, we may be able to directly admit your patient to the hospital or arrange an urgent ambulatory clinic visit in lieu of an ED visit.
  4. Please be aware that our inpatient PBMU has limited capacity for new patients. At this time, we are referring pediatric patients requiring psychiatric inpatient admission to appropriate facilities in Washington State, as needed.
  5. Help set realistic expectations about an ED visit and/or inpatient admission with children, families, and partners.
    • Patients and families should be prepared for potentially longer wait times.
    • An ED visit for mental or behavioral health typically involves an evaluation to determine if the child needs an inpatient psychiatric admission or is appropriate to discharge home.
    • As noted earlier, referrals to the PBMU could experience significant wait times and may not result in admission; we are asking all external partners to consider referring patients who need inpatient admission to all appropriate inpatient pediatric psychiatric facilities in Washington and consistently re-assess need for inpatient admission.
    • An inpatient psychiatric admission is typically 5 to 10 days and focused on acute crisis stabilization. It is not a long-term placement.