Courtesy of Yan Krukov via Pexels

Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma has received a $15,000 grant from Child’s Play: Grants for Play Projects to support sensory-friendly experiences for youths experiencing mental health crises.

Mary Bridge Children’s is the only Level II Pediatric Trauma Center in Western Washington.

Chief clinical officer of pediatric behavioral health at Mary Bridge Children’s and MultiCare Behavioral Health Network Chris Ladish said in a release that mental illness is a top three cause for medical hospitalization for children between the ages of 10 and 18 in Pierce County. 

“The incidence of children and adolescents with behavioral health challenges has steeply increased over the past decade, but the pandemic has notably exacerbated the issue,” Ladish said in the release. 

Children are being admitted to Mary Children’s emergency department and placed under 1:1 surveillance until they can be transferred to an appropriate facility, due to limited behavioral health inpatient beds available in the region. 

Several youths experiencing mental health crises also have secondary cognitive challenges like autism or sensory processing disorders. Anxiety can often increase when treated in traditional emergency department settings for this population and that creates additional risks for both patient and hospital staff harm. Admission for youths can last days, weeks, or even months at a time. Having access to tools like sensory-appropriate play equipment reduces levels of patient distress, restraint, and isolation. 

The grant will help Mary Bridge Children’s provide a safer environment with appropriate physical and mental stimuli to meet the needs of patients who are dealing with both mental health issues and sensory processing sensitivities, according to Mary Bridge Children’s MOT, OTR/L, occupational therapist Liz Goodwin. 

With this grant, Mary Bridge Children’s will purchase sensory-friendly play equipment like tactile step-n-stones, rest mats, sensory tiles and a mood light table, texture walls, and inflatable ball chambers.   

Mary Bridge Children’s was one of six children’s hospitals to receive a grant from Child’s Play and is one of only 17 children’s hospitals nationwide to receive this grant in 2021. The partnership between Child’s Play, the Toy Foundation, and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) awards grants to children’s hospitals to make play more accessible to patients. 

Currently, Mary Bridge Children’s has four emergency department beds dedicated to patients experiencing mental health crises. The new hospital building solely for children will include additional pediatric behavioral health crisis rooms to meet the needs of this patient population.

The new building will open late 2024. 

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