The mental health crisis requires urgent action by the House

What’s behind the endless time it takes to do something on Beacon Hill?

Is it because the deliberations and objections of lawmakers occur in a vacuum, far away from the source of the real-life problems ahead of them?

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 some decisions require.

Case in point: the cascading behavioral crisis that engulfed the medical community of this state.

It’s been nearly seven months since the Senate unanimously passed a far-reaching bill on behavioral health.

One of its key provisions would relate to what is known as emergency room boarding or “ED boarding”. It is then that those who are in the throes of a mental health crisis seek help in a hospital emergency room.

The wait for admission to a inpatient psychiatric unit can take days or weeks. Meanwhile, those seeking help remain in the emergency room, receiving little or no psychiatric care.

The bill would create an online portal with real-time data to help suppliers search for open beds more easily. It would also require hospital emergency departments to have a qualified behavioral health physician to evaluate patients throughout their working hours.

At the end of November that bill passed to the House Ways and Means Commission, where it has languished ever since.

Meanwhile, the state health system has been inundated with individuals in need of the resources this legislation would provide.

A snapshot of this exponentially growing supply-demand gap came via a recent Boston Globe article.

He indicated that nearly all of South Shore Hospital’s pediatric emergency beds were occupied by suicidal children on Monday.

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

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

Hospital officials across the Commonwealth face an unprecedented number of critically ill behavioral health patients; is a major contributor to the emergency room crowding that has soared in recent weeks.

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

The 557 patients who were admitted to emergency departments of state hospitals on May 16 – another sticking point – also speak of 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 addresses – to occupy beds on regular hospital floors while awaiting inpatient psychiatric care, sometimes for weeks. or even months.

Unlike the COVID-19 spikes, which appear to vary with the new variants, officials say the spikes in patients for behavioral health in emergency rooms have not declined.

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

Seemingly in no rush to expedite the enactment of this vital legislation, President Ron Mariano revealed in March that the House intended to push forward its mental health bill during the remainder of the legislative session, an improvement on behavioral reforms. on health care approved months ago by the Senate. Mariano said the House and Senate should eventually be able to combine their respective bills to galvanize “a truly global shift in the way we approach mental health.”

Take your time, Mr. President; those countless mental health patients who seek overwhelmed medical services and centers can wait.

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