WATCH: Why children are living in hospital emergency departments in WA

Michelle Baruchman

The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on covering mental and behavioral health issues. It is funded by Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for children and families. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over work produced by this team.

On any given day, more than 30 kids are living in a pediatric emergency department in Washington because they’re in need of psychiatric care but there is nowhere else for them to go.

That’s because there aren’t enough specialized inpatient beds to care for them. Emergency departments often don’t have the staff, training or physical safety precautions in place to treat these children’s long-term mental health concerns.

This problem comes with enormous financial costs for the state and for hospitals.

On Wednesday, reporter Hannah Furfaro and Jamie Kautz, the assistant vice president of pediatric care continuum at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, spoke about this issue in a free, online event. The discussion included what kids experience and how lawmakers are planning to move forward.

The conversation also covered what happens when kids are left by their families at ERs. Sometimes, a hospital feels a child who has been brought in for psychiatric care is ready to be discharged, but their parents or guardians won’t pick them up. That may be because the caregivers still have concerns about safety at home or they feel unequipped to care for the child’s needs.

In the past, the hospital could rely on Child Protective Services to take an abandoned child into custody, but the agency no longer does this, state officials and hospital staff say.

You can watch the entire hourlong conversation in the video linked above and read Seattle Times stories on this issue at

Here are some resources mentioned during the conversation:

Mental health resources from The Seattle Times

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