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Children’s hospitals elsewhere expanding mental health care

Critical gaps in mental health services for kids have prompted children’s hospitals around the nation to add beds and enhance other mental health services.


Children’s of Alabama, a nonprofit pediatric health system based in Birmingham, has a comprehensive behavioral health program that treats all psychiatric diagnoses and includes 44 inpatient beds for children ages 4-18. Its inpatient unit had a 97% occupancy rate and admitted 1,080 patients in 2021. The system also offers outpatient care at two locations that provide psychiatry, psychology, counseling and testing services for patients ages 3-18. Children’s of Alabama also has a “partial hospitalization program,” which is a day treatment program that includes six hours of structured therapy and activities and serves as a bridge between inpatient and outpatient services for patients ages 12-18. In addition, the system operates a Psychiatric Intake Response Center, a confidential telephone resource center that provides resources to adult callers with concerns about a child’s behavioral health. The center is located in the Emergency Department and assisted families in navigating the mental health system.


The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt has 28 beds designated for children and adolescents at its behavioral health hospital, providing inpatient care for patients ages 4–17 and potentially 18 if the patient is still in high school. If there is not a bed available at the appropriate level of care, the patient may be admitted at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital until proper placement is approved. The system’s behavioral health consultation phone line for pediatric providers is staffed by a licensed clinical social worker. Child psychiatrists are also available. “Through our work with the Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network, we offer real-time consultation for pediatric primary care providers to assist in resource navigation, assessment of the appropriate level of care, and management of depression and anxiety by pediatricians,” said Dr. Meg Benningfield, associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

ExploreCritics say Children’s Healthcare should do more to fill gaps in mental health system


East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and the McNabb Center in May opened a Children’s Crisis Stabilization Unit. The nonprofits said that the unit would allow kids in crisis to stay for up to eight days, or more if needed. There, kids can receive therapy, medication, and other services to help them work through a mental health crisis. After discharge, they could receive intensive community-based treatment through the McNabb Center, which provides mental health and substance use services.


The Medical University of South Carolina’s inpatient program at the Institute of Psychiatry has a 28-bed unit for children and adolescents. The system also operates an outpatient clinic for children and adolescents up to age 18 who have emotional and behavioral disorders, including ADHD, anxiety, mood, and adjustment disorders. The system is working to expand services to try to better meet the growing demand for care.

Credit: Courtesy of CHKD

Credit: Courtesy of CHKD

Norfolk, Virginia

Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters this year completed construction of a $224 million, 14-story mental health hospital and outpatient center for children, and the first of its 60 private inpatient beds will open this fall. While the building was under construction, the nonprofit health system opened a new psychiatric unit in its main hospital for children who need both medical and mental health care, and it renovated its emergency department to create an area for children who arrive in mental health crisis.


The nonprofit Children’s Health, one of the nation’s largest pediatric health care providers, announced in September that it will create and fund a 96-bed inpatient pediatric unit at the new state psychiatric hospital being built in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Its $200 million donation is part of its comprehensive effort to expand access to behavioral health services in North Texas, Children’s Health said in announcing the pediatric unit. It is expected to open in early 2026.

Columbus, Ohio

Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2020 opened a $159 million, nine-story Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion. It includes a stabilization unit with 12 beds for intensive mental health treatment and a psychiatric crisis department that includes a 10-bed extended observation suite to allow for appropriate time to determine if a child should be admitted for a higher level of care. The hospital has also expanded its research into pediatric behavior health conditions.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati Children’s in 2021 broke ground on a $99 million inpatient mental health facility that will be 68% larger than its current inpatient building.


Children’s Minnesota, a nonprofit pediatric health system, last year opened a mental health day program for teens, and this fall it will open its first inpatient mental health unit, with care for children as young as age 6. The unit in St. Paul will have 22 dedicated inpatient psychiatric beds and will allow parents to stay overnight with their child. The unit will also serve children with more complex medical needs. The health system is partnering with PrairieCare, a private psychiatric health care organization, to provide services. In another move to address the crisis in mental health care for young people, PrairieCare broke ground in September for a 30-bed expansion of its inpatient hospital for children and adolescents. The moves came after the state approved a mental health reform bill to fund more services.

New York

In Syracuse, SUNY Upstate University Hospital is planning a new children’s psychiatric hospital. Upstate got approval this spring to take over a building at a state psychiatric center. Upstate will continue to operate an 18-bed child psychiatry unit in the building and add a special unit for children ages 12-17 who have mental health issues along with developmental disabilities, the Post-Standard reported.

St. Louis

St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 2019 opened a 14-bed inpatient psychiatric unit for children ages 5 to 17. The hospital said that each patient will have an individual therapist and physician.


Boston Children’s Hospital in 2021 added inpatient psychiatric beds and announced it was acquiring another children’s hospital to boost mental health services. In other moves amid the behavioral and mental health crisis among children, the state Department of Mental Health said it was working with providers to add more psychiatric beds, and the Boston Public Health Commission this year appointed a child psychiatrist to a new position of mental health czar, to develop a citywide plan to address behavioral health issues.

Santa Clara County, Calif.

Santa Clara County is building a $233 million, 77-bed psychiatric hospital. One unit with 21 beds would be for those ages 13 to 17, and another with 14 beds for children 12 and younger. In approving the plan, officials said young people have been forced to travel long distances to receive care because of a shortage of inpatient beds in the area. Construction is expected to be completed in late 2023.

Grand Rapids, Mich.

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services are collaborating to build a $62 million Pediatric Behavioral Health Center of Excellence to increase access to services for children and young teens suffering mental health issues. The facility, funded in part by the state, will expand the number of inpatient beds for children, create a pediatric psychiatric urgent care center and have new specialty clinics for disorders such as anxiety and depression.


Children’s Hospital Colorado in May 2021 declared a state of emergency for youth mental health, as demand for behavioral health care nearly doubled. In response, by March 2022 it said it had increased its inpatient, outpatient and day services by more than 50%. Still, the health system reported that its new behavioral health unit in the emergency department at Children’s Colorado, Colorado Springs was over capacity just two years after it was built.

San Diego, Calif.

Rady’s Children’s Hospital in 2015 formally began an initiative to transform mental health care. The system already had a 24-bed inpatient unit for patients up to age 18, and it has behavioral health clinics in schools and in the community. But then in 2018 it created a six-bed pediatric psychiatric emergency department. And in 2019, Rady’s launched a program with pediatricians to integrate mental health care with primary care, aiming at early detection, prevention and treatment of behavioral health issues.

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