BOSTON (WHDH) – Health experts are warning of a new pandemic sweeping the nation: mental health crises in kids and teens.
With the Massachusetts medical system buckling under the pressure and often leaving children in crisis with nowhere to go, local emergency rooms are stepping in to help. Though many times, even they are not equipped.
This spring, two parents protested outside of Massachusetts General Hospital when their 17-year-old son was stuck in the emergency room for more than two weeks. The teen was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and they say he was in crisis.
The parents told 7 Investigates they were desperate to get their son the care he needed.
“The general public, if they knew this was happening I know for a fact they would be horrified,” mom Christine said. “We started coming down here with signs. After day ten, we hit our limit.”
Their son waited 19 days in the Emergency Department before he was moved to a mental health facility. During that time, Mass. General resorted to boarding — this is when psychiatric patients of all ages are kept safe and medicated in the Emergency Room until there is an open space at a treatment facility.
“It’s the situation, it’s not the hospital,” said Christine.
Boarding has become common practice at hospitals and the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it to a crisis point — especially for children. In just one week last month, more than 200 Massachusetts kids who were a danger to themselves or others did not have access to immediate psychiatric care.
“Suicide has become the second leading cause of death in children and adolescents,” said Dr. Patricia Ibeziako, the Associate Chief of Clinical Services at Boston Children’s Hospital. “And so, with this rise, there has been an increase in the demand for services and because those services are not available, boarding impacts children with mental health crises more than adults.”
Ibeziako said the pandemic made it even harder for kids to get mental health treatment because of the need for social distancing and the fact that many healthcare resources were diverted to fight the virus.
Mental health providers also point to a lack of open spots in treatment programs and staffing shortages due to the fact that insurance companies refuse to reimburse facilities beforehand.
“As healthcare providers, we go into the field to help people, to provide care to people, and it’s incredibly frustrating when you see patients unable to access the care that they need,” said Dr. Ibeziako.
A spokesperson for Massachusetts General Hospital told 7 Investigates that the hospital has taken steps to try to improve the situation. Making “a huge investment in behavioral health care in two key areas by increasing inpatient beds… and renovating space at the MGH emergency room so that a much more humane environment was created. Additionally… staffing was dramatically increased so that ongoing care could be provided.”
For Christine, she said she is thankful her son made it to treatment and that he is doing much better now. However, she said she wants to make sure the next time he or any other kid needs help will not have to wait so long.
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