Children’s Hospital Colorado creates ‘mental health-in-chief’ position to confront growing need for care

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AURORA | Children’s Hospital Colorado has appointed Dr. K. Ron-Li Liaw to serve as ‘mental health-in-chief,’ a new position created in response to what the hospital has dubbed a “state of emergency” for pediatric mental health.

Children’s Hospital rang the alarm on the state of youth mental health in Colorado last spring, saying the number of young people needing care was unprecedented and that there were not enough hospital beds or other resources to meet demand.

Since then, the state has continued to lobby the state and local government to dedicate funding towards the issue.

In her new role, Liaw, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, will oversee the implementation of the hospital’s pediatric mental health strategy. She is currently a fellow at the Aspen Institute and director of the child and adolescent psychiatry division at CU Anschutz.

“Dr. Liaw’s position as mental health-in-chief is on the same level as our pediatrician-in-chief or surgeon-in-chief, and this leadership role ensures that pediatric mental health is top of mind for every major decision we make as a children’s hospital,” hospital CEO Jena Hausmann said in a news release statement.

The demand for acute behavioral health services increased by 90% in 2021 compared to 2019, according to the hospital. For many weeks during 2021, the top reason for presenting to the emergency department was due to a suicide attempt.

“We’re clearly seeing at Children’s Hospital Colorado the disastrous downstream impacts of an already-broken pediatric mental health system that’s been further strained by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hausmann said. “We will continue to do all we can to provide high-quality mental health services to those children in need while also continuing to advocate with our community partners for systemic change at every level – local, state and federal – to help solve the youth mental health crisis.”