Addressing the Pediatric Mental Health Crisis in Emergency Departments in US: Findings of a National Pediatric Boarding Consensus Panel

Pediatric Boarding Consensus Guidelines Panel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In 2021, several professional organizations declared a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health. Rising volume and acuity of pediatric mental health emergencies, coupled with reduced access to inpatient psychiatric care, has caused tremendous downstream pressures on EDs resulting in long lengths of stay, or “boarding”, for youth awaiting psychiatric admission. Nationally, boarding times are highly heterogeneous, with medical/surgical patients experiencing much shorter boarding times compared to patients with primary mental health needs. There is little guidance on best practices in the care of the pediatric patient with significant mental health need “boarding” in the hospital setting. Objective: There is a significant increase in the practice of “boarding” pediatric patients within emergency departments and inpatient medical floors while awaiting psychiatric admission. This study aims to provide consensus guidelines for the clinical care of this population. Methods: Twenty-three panel participants of fifty-five initial participants (response rate 41.8%) committed to completing four successive rounds of questioning using Delphi consensus gathering methodology. Most (70%) were child psychiatrists and represented 17 health systems. Results: Thirteen participants (56%) recommended maintaining boarded patients in the emergency department, while 78% indicated a temporal limit on boarding in the emergency department should prompt transfer to an inpatient pediatric floor. Of this group, 65% recommended a 24-hour threshold. Most participants (87%) recommended not caring for pediatric patients in the same space as adults. There was unanimous agreement that emergency medicine or hospitalists maintain primary ownership of patient care, while 91% agreed that child psychiatry should maintain a consultative role. Access to social work was deemed most important for staffing, followed by behavioral health nursing, psychiatrists, child life, rehabilitative services, and lastly, learning specialists. There was unanimous consensus that daily evaluation is necessary with 79% indicating vitals should be obtained every 12 hours. All agreed that if a child psychiatric provider is not available on-site, a virtual consultation is sufficient to provide mental health assessment. Conclusions: This study highlights findings of the first national consensus panel regarding the care of youth boarding in hospital-based settings and provides promising beginnings to standardizing clinical practice while informing future research efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Delphi methodology
  • boarding
  • child and adolescent psychiatry
  • consensus best practice
  • consensus guidelines
  • consultation-liaison psychiatry
  • emergency medicine
  • emergency psychiatry
  • length of stay
  • mental health crisis
  • mental health emergency
  • youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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