Ashley Mangum remembers the scene all too well.
It was 2018, and Mangum, a licensed clinical social worker, was working at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, Washington. One day, a juvenile patient arrived in the emergency room displaying multiple mental and behavioral health problems.
Because there was no system in place, and no appropriate facility, institution, or program readily available, the teen spent six weeks in the emergency room, an untenable situation that resulted in multiple injuries to hospital staff and trauma for all involved, including the child.
This unfortunate event was part of a 400 percent increase from 2016 to 2019, a period during which more than 1,500 children suffering from mental health crises came to the Mary Bridge emergency department with nowhere else to go.
The dramatic spike served as an important wake-up call, says Mangum, explaining that it precipitated establishment of Kids Mental Health Pierce County (KMHPC), a coalition of more than 60 community-based organizations, providers, advocates and other stakeholders. Working in multidisciplinary teams, roughly 800 coalition members work to assist providers and families with complex behavioral health presentations, care coordination and case planning for children and teens. Elevate Health is an active and ongoing community health partner in KMHPC.
After creation of KMHPC, Mangum became Program Manager for both the newly formed coalition as well as Pediatric Mental Health at Mary Bridge.
Pierce County has a really rich history around coming together around some complex issues. – Ashley Mangum
The community “made a commitment to this work. We’re ‘asking the question,’” about the mental of each child encountered, says Mangum. “We spend a lot of time talking about crisis. We need to do more to be preventative.”
Kim Bjorn, Elevate Health’s Director of Clinical Integration and Transformation and primary host of Elevate Health Podcast’s Community Care Conversation series, says the rapid rise in suicidality among children and teens is typically brought on by challenges kids face at home, at school, or currently, the implications of COVID-19.
“Underlying for all of them is anxiety,” says Bjorn, adding that kids are often dealing with “complicated relationships with a lot of emotion and no way to process it.”