Mental Health

All Articles in the Category ‘Mental Health’

Seattle Children’s Emergency Department and Hospital Capacity Update

Seattle Children’s continues to see high numbers of pediatric patients seeking care in our Emergency Department (ED) and psychiatry inpatient units for mental and behavioral health emergencies.

Our emergency operations center that opened for this behavioral health emergency remains open.  The strategies we have put in place have succeeded in helping to discharge or progress care for these patients, creating much-needed capacity for new patients in the ED and psychiatry inpatient units. Despite these successes, we anticipate a continued high level of demand on the ED and PBMU for the foreseeable future.

We are experiencing high volumes of RSV in the community; flu is arriving more slowly.

In case you missed it, please see our update from Nov. 21, 2023: ED Patient Surge for Mental and Behavioral Health; Elevated RSV Rates Prompt Changes to Masking/Visitor Policies.

As we respond to the youth mental and behavioral health emergency, the safety, security and well-being of our patient and workforce is our top priority. We are taking steps to support patient and staff safety including adding supplemental staffing resources and increasing security. This work is ongoing and includes collaborating with our partners at all levels of government (local, state, federal) and continuing to listen to and support our workforce, patients and families.


How you can help

We continue to ask community providers to see patients in primary care whenever appropriate and feasible, to help preserve capacity in the ED for those who need it. If you are sending a patient to the ED, please call first to alert us: 206-987-8899 or toll-free 866-987-8899.


Tips for treating RSV/bronchiolitis

With RSV rates currently high in the community, we would like to remind providers that we offer several resources for caring for patients in primary care and supporting families with education materials.






  • Provider treatment tips:
    •  Bronchiolitis is a viral illness needing supportive care measures.
    •  Timeline of symptoms: increasing symptoms for two to three days with very slow resolution from day 6 to 22+.
    •  During height of symptoms (days 2- 6): clinical course varies minute to minute, clinical decisions and interventions should only be considered for sustained changes in clinical presentation
    •  Viral swab testing and CXRs do not alter the clinical course or parent satisfaction in care and can lead to over prescription of antibiotics (25% of children with bronchiolitis will have atelectasis on CXR)
    •  Albuterol is not helpful for bronchiolitis and may lead to side effects (tachycardia, iatrogenic V/Q mismatch, increased cost or implications for future illnesses, i.e., excess albuterol prescribing in the future.

Free On-Demand Class for Parents Offers Help With Children’s Behavior and Attention

A new virtual class for parents offers immediate help to parents experiencing behavior problems in children ages 4 to 11 years old. The class is free.

“We know families often have long waits to see behavioral health therapists or a specialist. This on-demand program teaches key parent training skills from our programs in short videos so caregivers can work on them at home and jump-start behavior changes,” says Dr. Erin Gonzalez, Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine.

The new class — our first asynchronous parent training program — was created by Seattle Children’s Behavior and Attention Management team and is available now on our website.

Based on the First Approach Skills Training (FAST) Behavior workbook, the FAST-Behavior Basics class has eight core videos and three bonus videos, each around two to five minutes long, that go with the caregiver worksheets from the FAST-Behavior workbook (also downloadable for free on our website).

Providers are welcome to recommend that families access this self-guided class as a stand-alone program or as they wait for other services.


More information: Behavior Basics Class – Seattle Children’s Hospital (

Short Wait Times for Youth Mental Health Referral Line

Current wait times are low for families who call the Washington Mental Health Referral Service for Children and Teens, thanks to a boost in funding and staffing. Families can be scheduled for an intake appointment within a few days and will receive a follow-up letter within a few weeks with contact information for mental health therapists in their local area who can see their child and who take their insurance.

The number for families to call is 833-303-5437 (press 1 for an interpreter). The service is free.


For more information:  Visit the Washington Mental Health Referral Service for Children and Teens website and view program metrics for 2019 to 2023.

Meet Laura Knapp: A Leader With Unrelenting Hope

Seattle Children’s welcomes Laura Knapp as its new vice president of Mental and Behavioral Health. An innovator, collaborator and optimist, Knapp leads Seattle Children’s mental and behavioral health strategy. She is responsible for the organization’s efforts to meet the recent increased demand for services and develop strategies for long-term growth and expansion.

In her 20-year career working in mental and behavioral health care, Knapp says she’s done most social work jobs imaginable, including serving as a therapist, social worker and now, administrator.

On the Pulse sat down with Knapp to learn what she thinks makes Seattle Children’s unique, how collaboration is crucial to increasing access to care, and why the fall season is especially busy in her house. Read full post »

Provider News special update (Nov. 21, 2023): ED Patient Surge for Mental and Behavioral Health; Elevated RSV Rates Prompt Changes to Masking/Visitor Policies

ED Patient Surge for Mental and Behavioral Health

From: Dr. Jeff Ojemann, SVP and Chief Medical Officer, Bonnie Fryzlewicz, SVP and Chief Nursing Officer and Dr. Tony Woodward, ED Medical Director


Seattle Children’s continues to see an extremely high number of pediatric patients seeking care for mental and behavioral health emergencies.  Thank you for your continued efforts to manage lower-acuity complaints, including lower-acuity mental and behavioral health concerns, in outpatient settings when appropriate. (See the Nov. 9 Special Update for a list of resources and how you can help.)

The ED is also seeing increased census in viral illnesses (see our Nov. 16 update on RSV/synagis/nirsevimab). RSV activity is high and has not peaked yet. Influenza activity is starting to rise locally.

Patients experiencing any type of medical emergency, including a child at imminent risk of harm to self or others, should seek immediate care at an emergency department.


Code yellow activated

We have activated a code yellow to manage our response (a code yellow opens an emergency operations center and formalizes an incident command structure for rapid communication and implementation of plans). We have implemented surge plans that help increase our capacity, and we are employing new tactics to allow us to better manage surges of ED patients and maximize use of beds in the Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit. However, we continue to see a significant proportion of our ED beds occupied by mental and behavioral health patients awaiting disposition, and some families may experience long waits.

The challenge of children and youth “stuck” while awaiting their next step in care is a crisis nationwide. Across Washington State hospitals, levels of patients awaiting disposition are at an all-time high.


Other actions we are taking 

While we recognize that systemic, statewide solutions typically take time to identify and implement, we are working with statewide partners to add resources and improve processes outside of Seattle Children’s. This is an important part of working toward long-term, sustainable solutions and will likely continue in the months ahead.

In order to raise awareness of these challenges and share relevant resources, we have reached out to numerous partners including leadership of state agencies, hospital partners through the Northwest Healthcare Response Network (NWHRN), key state legislators, Washington’s federal congressional delegation, the Washington State Governor’s Office, and local partners including School Based Health Centers and Public Health – Seattle and King County.  We continue to collaborate to identify and advance solutions in the short-, medium-, and long-term.

Thank you for your continued partnership.

Please contact Tony Woodward, ED Medical Director and Division Chief, with any suggestions, questions or concerns: [email protected]



High-Transmission Protocols Effective Nov. 20 Include Masking and Visitor Restrictions

From: Ruth McDonald, VP and Associate Chief Medical Officer (Hospital Operations) and Chief Medical Operations Officer; Bonnie Fryzlewicz, SVP and Chief Nursing Officer; and Danielle Zerr, Medical Director of Infection Prevention


Due to elevated transmission rates of respiratory diseases – specifically, RSV rates – Seattle Children’s has updated its masking, PPE, visitor and other policies. These changes took effect Monday, Nov. 20.


Masking changes

  • Everyone in clinical areas – workforce members, patients and families – will be required to wear a mask.
  • Masking will be recommended in non-clinical buildings and spaces.


Personal protective equipment (PPE) changes

  • Eye protection is required for all clinical encounters.


Visitor policy changes

  • Inpatient:
    • Four people (caregivers and/or adult visitors) allowed at bedside at a time (two dedicated caregivers may stay overnight).
    • No sibling visitors under 18 years. Patients who have or are anticipated to have an inpatient stay of 30 days or more are permitted to request a weekly sibling visitation.
    • No non-sibling visitors under 18 years.
  • Ambulatory:
    • A total of 4 caregivers and siblings are permitted to accompany the patient to their visit. It is preferred that siblings stay home and caregivers are limited.


Why did we update our policies on Nov. 20?

  • Seattle Children’s, along with other healthcare systems across the region and the Northwest Healthcare Response Network (the Network), has adopted interim thresholds for universal masking to prioritize the health and safety of patients and employees.
  • The Network’s latest update on masking in acute care and outpatient clinics is here.


For more information: Find our updated policies on our website.


Provider News special update, Nov. 9, 2023: Mental and Behavioral Health ED Surge

From: Dr. Jeff Ojemann, SVP and Chief Medical Officer, Bonnie Fryzlewicz, SVP and Chief Nursing Officer and Dr. Tony Woodward, ED Medical Director


Seattle Children’s is experiencing an extremely high number of pediatric patients seeking care for mental and behavioral health emergencies. Our Emergency Department (ED) remains a resource, if needed, and we wish to alert you to some limitations in our capacity and provide alternative resources.

This extremely high demand is leading to up to 50% of our ED beds being occupied by mental and behavioral health patients awaiting disposition. We are triaging to see patients with the most urgent concerns first. Some families may experience long waits.

Patients experiencing any type of medical emergency, including a child at imminent risk of harm to self or others, should seek immediate care at an emergency department.


How you can help:

  1. Please continue to identify and manage lower-acuity complaints in outpatient settings, including urgent care, to help maintain ED capacity for higher-acuity concerns. This includes managing lower-acuity mental and behavioral health concerns in outpatient settings as much as possible. See below for resources.
  2. 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.
  3. Please be aware that our inpatient Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit (PBMU) currently has no capacity for new patients. At this time, we are referring pediatric patients requiring a psychiatric inpatient admission to all appropriate facilities in Washington State.
  1. Help set realistic expectations about an ED visit and/or inpatient admission with children, families and partners. 
  • 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. Patients and families should be prepared for potentially longer wait times.
  • As noted earlier, referrals to the PBMU will 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.
  • Patients seen in our ED who need inpatient psychiatric admission will be referred to all appropriate inpatient pediatric psychiatric facilities in Washington.
  • An inpatient psychiatric admission is typically 5 to 10 days and focused on acute crisis stabilization. It is not a long-term placement.


Mental and behavioral health resources for providers:

Resources that may help you manage patients in primary or urgent care instead of sending to the ED:

  1. The Partnership Access Line (PAL) supports primary care providers (doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants) with questions about mental and behavioral health care such as diagnostic clarification, medication adjustment or treatment planning. Our child and adolescent psychiatrists are available to consult during business hours.
  2. The Washington Mental Health Referral Service connects patients and families with evidence-supported outpatient mental and behavioral health services in their community. This free telephone-based referral service provides thorough mental and behavioral health referrals for children and teens 17 and younger from across Washington.
  3. Seattle Children’s First Approach Skills Training (FAST) programs are designed to provide brief, evidence-based behavioral therapy for youth and families with common mental and behavioral health concerns in settings such as primary care clinics or schools, where longer-term treatment is not typically provided. Program materials, as well as engagement and assessment tools for clinicians, are available on the Seattle Children’sFAST Website.
  4. Seattle Children’s online mental and behavioral health hub: Provides resources for families and caregivers to reference for their child’s mental and behavioral health and wellness. You can learn about common mental and behavioral health problems in children and teens, how to recognize the signs of a problem and crisis and how to help your child or teen as well as what services are available.
  5. Family Resource Center – Child Mind Institute: Provides information for families and caregivers to help support children who are struggling with mental and behavioral health or learning challenges.
  6. Strategies for Clinical Settings for Youth Suicide Prevention ( Provides a clinical pathway for addressing suicide prevention in pediatric practice.
  7. Mental Health Practice Tools and Resources ( Provides resources to help providers promote healthy mental development and address mental and behavioral health concerns.
  8. Algorithms and other PCP resources for 65+ conditions


Thank you for your continued partnership.

Please contact Tony Woodward, ED Medical Director and Division Chief for any suggestions, questions or concerns: [email protected].

FAST Ways to Support Kids With Mental Health Concerns in the PCP Office

FAST resources for PCPs

FAST offers brief, evidence-based behavioral therapy for many common mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. The program and materials are intentionally designed for use in settings where kids would not typically receive longer-term treatment, such as primary care clinics and schools.

You can learn more about FAST and check out their free resource materials for providers on their website.

Resources include two-page “snapshot” handouts in English and Spanish that can be given out to kids and families as a first step prior to referring them for clinician-guided intervention. They cover these common mental health conditions: Read full post »

New PAL Care Guides Available and Other Mental Health News

The Partnership Access Line (PAL) released the 2024 version of the Washington State “Seattle Children’s Primary Care Principles for Child Mental Health” care guide, available here.

The 2024 care guide (version 12.0) includes the following updates: Read full post »

Coming soon: Provider-to-Provider Consult Service for Youth Mental Health Boarders

In response to the national pediatric mental health crisis, Seattle Children’s is creating the Telemedicine Extension for Adolescent and Child Mental Health Boarders (TEAM B) program to address the growing needs of youth who present to emergency departments in mental health crisis.

This program will provide clinical consultation and resource assistance to our colleagues at outside facilities in need of support for their mental health boarders. Our team consists of psychiatric providers, mental health and community resource specialists and behavioral support providers. We will offer this program to assist with potential diversion efforts through psychiatric consultation and the provision of community-based resources. We will also provide behavior support consultation to your care teams for boarding youth with behavioral challenges. Read full post »

SAFES Program Offers Rapid Psychotherapy Interventions to Kids Experiencing Suicidality in Underserved Areas of Washington

Seattle Children’s wants primary care providers in Eastern Washington to know about a new program called Supporting Adolescents and Families Experiencing Suicidality (SAFES). SAFES provides rapid psychotherapy interventions to 12- to 18 year-olds in underserved areas of Washington state who are experiencing a suicidality crisis that does not require an Emergency Department (ED) visit. The program is based on the Crisis Care Clinic model developed at Seattle Children’s.


Refer a Patient: A patient’s PCP can call to speak with a child psychiatrist at the Partnership Access Line (PAL) at 866-599-7257. See SAFES flyer.


Patient Eligibility Criteria:

  • Must live in a Washington state eligible county (Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pen Oreille, Spokane, Stevens)
  • Age 12 to 18
  • Patient’s primary care provider has active concerns for suicidality, but child is not severe enough to need an ED visit
  • Child should not be engaged in other mental health services unless the current therapist/provider cannot safely handle the child in the community


Please note there are currently no insurance restrictions.


SAFES is funded through a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration administered by Washington State Department of Health.

For more information please email: [email protected].