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Lack of mental health beds means long ER waits


FOUR YEARS AGO, a Pittsfield woman named Christine told MassLive about her experience waiting with her young son in the hospital emergency room for three days until the hospital could find an inpatient psychiatric bed for him.

In 2015, research from the Health Policy Commission found that 28 percent of people who showed up at an emergency room with a behavioral health diagnosis, around 50,000 people, spent more than 12 hours there. Boarding – spending more than 12 hours in a hospital ER waiting for a psychiatric bed – has been a major problem in Massachusetts since a landmark 2001 lawsuit, Rosie D v. Romney, which argued that a lack of home-based mental health services contributed to ER boarding.

The problem stems partly from difficulties accessing mental health treatment due to long waits for appointments and providers who do not accept insurance. There is also a scarcity of inpatient psychiatric beds, particularly for children.

What’s changed since then, amid a global pandemic that is threatening people’s mental health?

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