Hospitals discriminate against patients with behavioral health conditions. At ten large Massachusetts hospitals, emergency departments averaged 4 hours to serve patients with a medical issue versus 16-21 hours for patients with a behavioral health issue, according to a recent study. Institutional prejudice—whether in insufficient beds or insufficient personnel—appears to be the only explanation for why hospitals take 4 to 5 times longer to provide behavioral health services to those who have an urgent need for them.

The poorer the patient, the longer the wait for help. Behavioral healthcare patients with Medicaid insurance were twice as likely to experience delays of 24 hours or more as were those with private health insurance, who typically waited 8 hours to be treated, while Medicaid patients average 12 hours of delay, with 14 hours for the uninsured.

These findings underscore the huge gap between realities and expectations with regard to mental health parity in the U. S., despite the passage of federal laws aimed at eliminating such discrimination and improving accessibility.

Published online in 2016 by the American College of Emergency Physicians, the study, “Analysis of Emergency Department Length of Stay for Mental Health Patients at Ten Massachusetts Emergency Departments” was conducted by a team led by Mark D. Pearlmutter, MD, chair of emergency medici ne at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.

“While the notion of mental health parity has received some attention in recent years,” wrote Dr. Pearlmutter, “the inequity in care for this particularly vulnerable group of people persists.”

Are you a clinical social worker in a hospital setting? Are ER patients given reasonable access to your services? What are the statistics regarding the boarding times in your hospital’s provision of behavioral health services? What are your hospital’s policies in this area? Is there a hospital ER oversight panel on which clinical social workers should be represented?

Piece by Robert Booth.

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