Lawmakers in Massachusetts are debating bills that seek to reduce boarding of behavioral health patients in hospital emergency departments and to keep them from being housed in correctional facilities.
Two proposals discussed at a joint House-Senate hearing last week stemmed from recommendations offered in a report from a Mental Health Advisory Committee created by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2012, which expanded its scope in 2013. That year, then-Gov. Deval Patrick closed 124 of the 169 beds at Taunton (Mass.) State Hospital. The administration said the goal was to reinvest in community-based mental health services.
Massachusetts Nurses Association spokesman David Schildmeier said the move aggravated an ongoing mental health crisis in the state, with “people waiting for days and months for a bed.”
One measure includes a two-year pilot program to create a temporary facility at the Taunton hospital where mental-health patients being boarded in an ED can remain until a behavioral-health bed can be found. The other bill calls for the state mental health department to create two units for “difficult-to-manage” patients.
While most patients undergoing treatment for behavioral-health issues are not violent, Schildmeier said a minority are, and they are frequently “shifted from facility to facility, wreaking havoc wherever they go.” The MNA noted that those patients often end up being “housed in the corrections system where their conditions go untreated or are exacerbated.”