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Report: Child mental health care in Massachusetts still fragmented, insufficient

The Center for Human Development in Springfield, Mass. is one of 25 community mental health centers receiving funding from the state.
Elizabeth Román
/
NEPM
The Center for Human Development in Springfield, Mass. is one of 25 community mental health centers receiving funding from the state.

A new report on child mental health services in Massachusetts shows the challenges that existed before the pandemic have only gotten worse.

In the report, the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans (MAHP) highlighted several longstanding problems, including a fragmented system that leads to poor coordination of care, a shrinking workforce, and not enough access to community-based urgent care when a child is in crisis.

"If you can't find a place to take your child to get care, you take them to the emergency room," said co-author Nancy Lane. "And if you go to the emergency room, it's much more likely that you will end up being hospitalized."

Land said the state’s new expansion of behavioral healthcare, called by the "Roadmap for Behavioral Health Reform," should help address these problems by creating community mental health centers, mobile crisis teams, and a helpline.

But experts said there should be a robust public information campaign to let families, as well as primary care doctors, know how to find and get those services.

While the expansion was rolled out at the end of Gov. Charlie Baker's tenure, a state health care official said the effort will continue and deepen under Maura Healy's administration.

MAHP also suggests creating incentives for people to enter and stay in the child mental health field, such a loan forgiveness —and to make use of alternatives to traditional therapy, including peer support.

The authors said some of the workarounds put in place during the pandemic — like using telehealth and other technology to reach more people — should be further developed. They also emphasized the importance of health equity, and getting mental health care to people in underserved communities and with low incomes.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.