Children "stuck" in MA mental health system

With state officials and hospitals struggling to provide enough beds--and meet the need for post-discharge treatment--a growing number of Massachusetts children are having trouble getting needed mental health services. Mentally-ill children and adolescents face long ED waits, and when they are discharged, may not have access to outpatient programs. In February, for example, 156 children who were ready to leave inpatient psychiatric settings didn't have access to outpatient treatment. This is not the first crisis to face the state's psychiatric treatment system; late last year, the state Department of Mental Health had to stop accepting inpatient admissions to all state hospitals and psych units due to a lack of beds.

The problem is due in part to growth in children needing inpatient psychiatric care, which has risen 8 percent since 2005. However, officials have calculated that the number of children who have nowhere to go after discharge is up a disproportionate 50 percent. To address the inpatient capacity problem, health plans are encouraging hospitals to free up beds whenever possible, taking steps such as moving older adolescents into adult units when appropriate. Meanwhile, state officials are working to analyze and address the issue.

To learn more about children's mental health in Massachusetts:
- read this Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report piece