Mental health crisis demands urgent action from the House

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What’s behind the endless time it takes to do anything in Beacon Hill?

Is it because the deliberations and bloviations of legislators take place in a vacuum, far removed from the source of the real problems they face?

This isolation of the State House could lend itself to a detached and deliberate analysis of issues based solely on their merits, but without the urgency that certain decisions require.

Case in point – the cascading behavioral crisis that has overwhelmed the medical community in this state.

It’s been almost seven months since the Senate unanimously approved a sweeping behavioral health bill.

One of its main provisions would deal with what is known as emergency department boarding or “emergency boarding”. This is when people in the throes of a mental health crisis seek help from a hospital emergency department.

Waiting to be admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit can take days or weeks. In the meantime, those seeking help remain in the emergency department, receiving little or no psychiatric care.

The bill would create an online portal with real-time data to help providers find open beds more easily. It would also require hospital emergency departments to have a trained behavioral health clinician to assess patients during all hours of operation.

In late November, that bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it has languished ever since.

In the meantime, the state health care system has been inundated with people in need of the resources this legislation would provide.

A snapshot of this exponentially growing supply-demand gap is provided by a recent Boston Globe article.

He said on Monday almost all the pediatric emergency beds at the South Shore Hospital were occupied by suicidal children.

The 10 patients, some of whom have been stranded there for 12 days or more, are waiting for a facility to take care of their mental health needs. Another 18 adults were in the emergency department with behavioral health issues, also waiting for beds.

This is not an isolated scenario, but rather a worrying trend.

Hospital officials across the Commonwealth are facing unprecedented numbers of behaviorally ill patients in need; it’s a major contributor to emergency room crowding that has skyrocketed in recent weeks.

According to data compiled by the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, one hospital on May 2 had all of its emergency department beds occupied by patients awaiting psychiatric evaluation or placement in a facility.

The 557 patients taken to public hospital emergency departments on May 16 – another high point – also testify to the scale of this crisis.

In addition to flooding emergency rooms, this spike in behavioral health has forced some patients — those boarders the Senate bill is aimed at — to occupy beds on regular hospital floors while awaiting psychiatric care in hospitalization, sometimes for weeks or even months.

Unlike COVID-19 outbreaks, which appear to vary with new variants, officials say behavioral health patient outbreaks in emergency rooms have not diminished.

While COVID-19 did not create this massive backup of behavioral health services, it certainly made a bad situation worse.

Seemingly in no rush to expedite the passage of this vital legislation, Speaker Ron Mariano revealed in March that the House intended to pursue its own mental health bill through the remainder of the legislative session, an improvement in behavioral health care reforms passed months ago. by the Senate. Mariano said the House and Senate should ultimately be able to merge their respective bills to galvanize “real, comprehensive change in the way we deal with mental health.”

Take your time, Mr. Chairman; those countless mental health patients seeking services and overwhelmed medical centers can wait.

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