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Parents concerned over Seattle Children's temporary reduction in mental health beds

Seattle Children’s hospital is temporarily reducing the number of child and teen mental health beds in its psychiatry and behavioral medicine unit.

SEATTLE — Being in middle school can be tough, but right now, 12-year-old Jazzy Helmy's number one focus is on theater auditions.

"It's the musical Legally Blonde and I'm probably going to audition for just one of the sorority girls ensemble," Helmy said.

It's a good type of stress. Jazzy and her parents have spent years trying to get the resources she needs. 

"I'm autistic. But as a person, I'm not just autistic," Helmy said. 

Autism is not Jazzy's only diagnosis, but it's the one she feels most comfortable identifying. Jazzy's mom, Lori Helmy, said it's the violent outbursts that were hard to control.

"They're punching, they're yelling, they're kicking, they're screaming," Lori said.

Jazzy has stayed at Seattle Children's Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit, PBMU, over a dozen times.

"A lot of the times I can't remember what happens when I get really upset or mad," said Jazzy.

Sometimes Jazzy is admitted, other times, they send her back home. 

"So where do we send our kids when we can't handle them at home?  We're not bad parents. We have no resources," said Lori.

With 41 beds and taking children ages 3 to 17, Seattle Children's is temporarily reducing their number of beds due to upcoming projects and upgrades. 

"Just last week, I had a parent in the E.R. or waiting room for hours and hours just to be sent away," said Rachel Nemhouser, who is the Community & Family Support Manager for Arc of King County. 

Her job is to support parents and children with developmental disabilities. Nemhouser said oftentimes that overlaps with the PBMU. 

Nemhouser added that parents are turned away from the PBMU regularly, and there may not be another place to go due to a lack of available beds and resources across the state.

"It's really devastating to find out the last resort is not even there," said Nemhouser, who also has an autistic son.

Lori said she'll continue to fight for her daughter, who is already doing better. It's been one year since she was last admitted. 

"I feel like since I've gotten into better environments like school wise, that it's helped me and being able to socialize more," said Jazzy.

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