State Sen. Susan Moran
Many of the patients coming to emergency rooms are in the midst of mental health and addictions crises. Healthcare professionals struggle to find them the best place to receive care, and they languish in the hospital for extended periods. This harms overall patient care and weighs heavily on hospitals by stretching staff thin as they struggle to help balance greater caseloads and battle to find appropriate and affordable care for their patients. In recent years, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the need has exacerbated.
I recently hosted a mental healthcare forum, inviting my colleague state Rep. Mathew Muratore to co-host at Beth-Israel Deaconess (BID) Plymouth Hospital. The conversation highlighted the urgent need to invest in immediate solutions to expand and improve the mental healthcare system. The forum included medical professionals, public safety officials, legislators, and families affected by the inadequacies of the mental healthcare system in Massachusetts, and they sounded the alarm.
Mike Lauf, president and CEO of Cape Cod Healthcare, described the crisis as a “Category 4 Hurricane.” Kevin Coughlin, president of BID-Plymouth, underscored the urgency of the crisis facing the mental health system, citing a significant rise in patient boarding arising from a lack of outpatient services and low insurance reimbursement. Healthcare professionals further described the toll on the entire healthcare system; patients, families, doctors, nurses and staff, all overloaded and under-resourced.
Falmouth Police Chief and Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association President Edward Dunne outlined the process for police response to mental health calls, including evaluations required by law enforcement and noted the need for additional in-house clinical staff as mental health calls have increased. In the interim, the department is improving mental health crisis response through external clinical support and training including the budget addition of $100,000 in funding to provide clinical support for law enforcement responding to mental health calls that I included in the fiscal year 2022 state budget.
Th impact of COVID-19 on the availability of beds was a constant refrain of the conversation. The Massachusetts Health Policy Coalition has estimated that Massachusetts lost as many as 270 psychiatric beds during the COVID pandemic due to temporary and permanent unit closures. Low reimbursement rates for care translate to few resources and low pay, and as the case load increases but pay stays the same, it has become harder to recruit and retain qualified staff.
Commissioner Brooke Doyle of the Department of Mental Health attended virtually, and affirmed both the reality of the problems faced by patients and the commitment of the DMH to work towards providing solutions to the bed shortages. State Senators Julian Cyr and Marc Pacheco joined the forum to discuss the legislature’s work expanding mental healthcare access through policy and state investments.
As part of this effort, I filed legislation, S.1307, an act establishing a task force for person centered mental health care, to create a standing task force led by experts to propose improvements the mental health system. The chronic under-investment in mental healthcare creates a system where decisions about health are led by insurance and waitlists rather than by clinical needs.
The need for adequate mental health will continue to be an important discussion in order to address health care demands as well as public safety needs. As part of this long term investment, I secured $500,000 in additional funding to support mental health consultations for children in early education settings. The work is not over: the American Rescue Plan funding, coming from the federal government, presents yet another opportunity to invest in mental and behavioral health care.
Beyond policy, dollar amounts, and the statistics, families bear the weight of the shortages of care and chronic underfunding. Christine Uljua, a local grandmother and sole caretaker for her grandson, described the excruciating difficulties she faced in finding adequate mental healthcare for her grandson. She organized a team of providers to support her and, still, she had to fight for her grandson through each hospital transfer and extended stay. After nearly a month of bouncing from hospital to hospital across the commonwealth, her grandson found appropriate care, but what comes after he’s discharged is an open question. Uljua’s story highlights many of the hazards facing patients and families in the mental healthcare system,
including long waitlists, complicates processes, and being constantly moved around until a spot is open.
We elevated the voices of patients, families, law enforcement, and emergency room professionals who are being emotionally crushed and physically put at risk by the lack of mental health and substance use care facilities in Massachusetts. The voices of these stakeholders illustrate why investing in our mental healthcare is a necessary component of creating a comprehensive healthcare system, and it is those voices that will build the public support we need to move ahead on these issues. It is those voices that I will remember as I work urgently to resolve these problems in our system.
State Sen. Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, represents the Plymouth Barnstable District, which includes the towns of Kingston, Pembroke and Plymouth in Plymouth County, and Bourne, Falmouth and Sandwich in Barnstable County.
Originally Appeared Here