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Children in Need of Psychiatric Care End Up Waiting in ER for Days

Covid-19 left Massachusetts hospitals too short-staffed for a surge of mental health patients

Hospital Child Kid RF
Photographer: E+/Getty Images

Before the pandemic, when child psychiatrist Abbie Donovan would head down to see young patients stuck in the hospital emergency department for lack of a psychiatric bed, she would find just a couple, and knew their limbo would last just a day or so.

“But what we are seeing now is completely unprecedented,” said Donovan, associate director of the Acute Psychiatry Service at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In emergency departments across the country, “we are all coping with astronomical need for care that we’re unable to address right now, even though we’re desperately trying to.”