Children's Hospital Colorado

Children's Colorado Appoints Inaugural “Mental Health-in-Chief”

Children's Hospital Colorado | January 14, 2022

In the wake of declaring a state of emergency for pediatric mental health in May 2021, Children’s Hospital Colorado (Children’s Colorado) continues to invest more resources to better support the children, youth and families in our region. To help oversee this monumental challenge, Children’s Colorado has welcomed and appointed K. Ron-Li Liaw, MD, as our inaugural Mental Health-in-Chief.

Ensuring pediatric mental health is top of mind for every major decision

Dr. Liaw will help shape and oversee child mental health vision and strategy, operations, quality, safety and workforce development system-wide for Children’s Colorado. A child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr. Liaw also serves as the chair of the Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Colorado, where she holds the Cannon Y. & Lyndia Harvey Chair in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“We're clearly seeing at Children's Colorado the disastrous downstream impacts of an already-broken pediatric mental health system that's been further strained by the COVID-19 pandemic. 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,” said President and CEO Jena Hausmann. “We’re pleased to welcome Dr. Liaw to the Children’s Colorado family and welcome her vision, energy and leadership, especially as we reimagine our response to crisis care and expand our mental health inpatient, outpatient and day treatment services across our system of care. 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.”

Now is the time to build an integrated system

“Now is the time for Colorado to design and build an integrated system of care for the kids and families of this dynamic and beautiful state,” said Dr. Liaw. “I am impressed with the mission, vision, footprint and the depth of humble expertise I’ve found at Children’s Colorado, along with tremendous partners who are all driving a movement of change for children’s health. We want Colorado to be an innovative and effective model, and I’m excited to be part of the momentum and part of the team that’s going to get us there.”

Dr. Liaw has extensive leadership experience

Dr. Liaw is representing Children’s Colorado as a 2021-22 Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow and joining a national network of visionary leaders who are transforming the trajectory of children and families across the country.

Dr. Liaw is also the director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and vice chair of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Department of Psychiatry with the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Previously with Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, Dr. Liaw was director of the Sala Institute’s Child-Family Services and Resilience Programs and Chief of Service for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Her areas of expertise include trauma and resilience, co-occurring medical and mental health issues and children’s and families’ responses to acute and chronic stress, among others.

Dr. Liaw brings national experience to her work

Nationally, Dr. Liaw has served as an expert consultant in design and innovation, family engagement, improvement science, mental health integration, clinician well-being, diversity and equity for the American Board of Pediatrics Foundation’s Resilience Roadmap Pilot Collaborative, Greater New York Hospital Association Clinician Wellbeing Advisory Group, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Children’s Hospital Association’s Behavioral Health Leadership Roundtable, and the global design company IDEO.

Dr. Liaw earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Rice University, her medical degree at Baylor College of Medicine, her psychiatry training at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital, and her child psychiatry training at NYU Langone Health and Bellevue Hospital. She completed improvement science training at the Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence at Cincinnati Children’s, research training at the Mind/Body Institute and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and a clinical fellowship in psychodynamic psychotherapy at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.

COVID-19 and mental health

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the youth mental health crisis and further exposed the lack of a wrap-around mental health system in Colorado. Children and families are experiencing tremendous stress driven by disruptions in daily routine, social isolation, financial insecurity and grief. The lack of screening, preventive services, mental health providers, training programs, psychiatric beds and residential treatment facilities for youth in crisis leads to a continued cycle of trauma.

The Children’s Colorado inpatient psychiatric unit has been full for well over a year and our inpatient medical units and ICUs continue to admit multiple patients with suicidal ideation. From January through mid-October 2021, across our pediatric system, 70% more children came to our emergency departments due to a mental health crisis, compared to the same time period before the pandemic in 2019. In 2021, Children’s Colorado saw more than 6,500 emergency department behavioral health visits of children in crisis, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Additional resources

To make a gift in support of pediatric mental health or to learn more about how you can invest in Children’s Colorado as we address the mental health crisis, visit www.pmhi.org today.