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If ever there was a need for more accessible mental health services the time is now. And in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the governors and legislatures are making moves to address this, working to ensure those in need of care – an alarming number of whom are children – can get the appropriate kind quickly.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker recently created the Roadmap for Behavioral Health Reform and funded it with $115 million, according to a Wednesday report by Statehouse reporter Christian Wade. Baker proposes part of the money should come from a new behavioral health overload for insurers, which could generate approximately $34 million a year.

Baker plans to create a hotline that will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, he is establishing community behavioral health centers for same-day evaluation and treatment referral. Also, coverage will be expanded for MassHealth recipients.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders applauded the initiative for its ability “to open up the front door and to ease the availability of urgent and outpatient behavioral health services.”

“As we expand access and incentivize health care providers to provide evidence-based treatment, hopefully we come closer to the goals of achieving parity, providing effective treatment, ensuring equity and improving health outcomes,” Sudders said.

In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu received a nod from the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee and Executive Council in December to use $15.1 million in state funds to purchase the 111-bed Hampstead Hospital, a previously private psychiatric and substance use facility.

The hospital will be operated by the Department of Health and Human Services as an inpatient facility for children and adolescents. It’s expected to open later this year and help alleviate the pervasive use of emergency rooms as holding tanks for youngsters waiting for a bed in a proper facility.

“We have always had trouble finding sufficient beds for children who need them,” Dennis Walker, vice president of clinical operations for emergency services and intake at Seacoast Mental Health Center, said in a January report by Foster’s Daily Democrat.

“COVID has made this so much worse,” he added. “We see kids in emergency rooms waiting for a bed for days, sometimes for weeks or longer.”

New Hampshire beefed up its rapid mobile response teams, who use vans located at centers around the state to respond to mental health crises. The NH Community Behavioral Health Association already had three locations; now seven more have been added. Each team includes a master’s degree-level clinician and a peer-support person. They respond to calls made through a line operated by Beacon Health.

“The people on the teams will be experts in assessment and crisis intervention,” Walker told Foster’s. “The goal of the service is to see if we can resolve the situation where they are, by going to them. It could be in a person’s home, at school, in a coffee shop. We will go wherever.”

When Baker signed the $4 billion COVID-19 relief bill in Massachusetts, $400 million was targeted to expand behavioral health services and curb boarding of psychiatric patients. And in November, legislation to set a floor for rates insurers must pay for mental health services and requiring them to cover same-day emergency stabilization services passed. The measure also reduces the amount of time it takes for newly hired behavioral health professionals to be approved by insurers to begin practicing. That will help address staffing shortages.

Last fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry issued an urgent warning declaring the mental health crisis among children so dire that it has become a national emergency. Recent studies show that even as the pandemic begins to subsidize, the mental health crisis continues to grow.

“We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, their communities, and all of our futures,” the group representing more than 77,000 physicians and 200 children’s hospitals declared.

While the pandemic has demanded drastic measures including lockdowns, isolation and remote learning, young people are living in unnatural circumstances. Socialization and friendship are as much a part of a child’s education and growth as can be garnered from any textbook. That’s evidenced in their suffering now. Political leaders are to be commended for an intense response to the cries for help.


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