Children's Wisconsin looks to address child mental health crisis with new walk-in clinic

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Studies are proving that the Covid-19 pandemic not only poses a threat to a child's physical health; it's impacting mental health as well.

Numbers from the CDC show the number of children showing up in emergency rooms across the nation for mental health reasons in 2020 increased by about 31 percent for those ages 12 to 17. At Children's Wisconsin, officials say the hospital saw a 40 percent increase in its emergency room mental health visits.

"These usually are significant episodes of anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation," explained Dr. Smriti Khare, president of primary care at Children's Wisconsin. "There are a hundred-thousand plus children across the nation who have lost a caregiver to the pandemic in these last couple of years and all of that takes a significant toll on our children's mental and behavioral health and emotional health."

Children's Wisconsin is hoping to address this crisis with the Craig Yabuki Mental Health Walk-In Clinic, a first-of-its kind clinic in the Milwaukee area that is slated to open within the next few months once the proper amount of staffing is in place.

"Kids are not little adults, so being a mental health provider for kids, it's a specialty and it's unique," explained Amy Herbst, vice president for mental and behavioral health at Children's Wisconsin. "The clinic is all built out so it's all new and updated and ready to be used, but really the biggest challenge has been staffing. "We've hired about 75 percent of the staff already so we're almost there."

According to Herbst, the hospital is actively recruiting licensed therapists, social workers and clinic assistance to work at the clinic both full-time and part-time.

"Because we're being really creative and really flexible at how we staff this, we don't really have a number that we need, but rather we're looking for the right kind of people who are saying 'I would like to do this work, I would like to provide this care,'" Herbst explained. "We do partner with all of the local universities and colleges so that we have an excellent pipeline between them and us for therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. We have an excellent partnership with the Medical College of Wisconsin when it comes to health psychologists and child psychiatrists, and work very closely with them every day to have those staff on our team as well. We're doing some new and unique things to try to help the employees become the mental health providers our kids and families need."

Once open, the clinic will operate from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. offering assistance for families with a child suffering from an immediate mental health challenge.

"We are, right now, going to focus on kids from ages 5 to 18. So that early school age child all the way through that young adulthood, and be able to provide them with immediate access to some support right at the moment they need it," Herbst said. "Families just need to say, 'This can't wait, I need help now,' and they need to show up in the clinic and we will help them."

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